Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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Cherries high tunnels M cherries in Sweet Tunnels offer little protection from frost, but they do keep rain off. This reduces rots and prevents ripe cherries from cracking. olly Brumbley had never grown tree fruit when she planted sweet cherries in the spring of 2005. That fall, she built the steel structure to cover them with plastic the next spring—a highly innovative move at the time—and now she ranks as one of the most experienced growers in the high-tunnel fruit business. Local cherries without cracks are highly prized by Good Fruit Grower interviewed her on April 3, catching her when cherries were just starting to bloom at the farm in Elkton, Maryland, and she was rounding up a crew to put the polyethylene skin on her two acres of Haygrove high tunnels. She has 900 trees growing in nine rows under three 28-foot-wide bays that stretch 900 feet long. A careful planner and budgeter, Brumbley said the enterprise has eastern consumers. by Richard Lehnert worked pretty much as she penciled it out before she started. The sweet cherries ripen in June, just after the spring strawberry season ends and just before the raspberry and blueberries start. These four crops are the backbone of the direct marketing effort at Walnut Springs Fruit Farm. The tunnels were built primarily for rain protection for the cherries and tree health, and they do the job. "We've had no problem with crack- ing," she said. There are no sides on the tunnels. "Frost protection is not the reason we built these," she said, and she doesn't know whether she will get any such protection—or need it— this year when bloom came three weeks early. Nor was season extension a primary goal, although the cherries have ripened about a week earlier than typical for the area, which gives them a competitive advantage, she said. "Skinning" the tunnels could have been done earlier this year, given the early bloom. "You have to understand how we do things," she said. "We have no permanent labor. We try to get the poly up during spring break, when we can get high-school kids and other local labor. It takes three or four hours a day for three days to get this done, and you can't do it in the wind. We've had some human parachutes in the past." Haygrove's high tunnels are steel structures, with hoops "We use no insecticides— built atop five-foot-tall posts that form sidewalls. The 900- foot-long sheets of polyethylene, one for each bay, are stored in the off-season in the gutters between the bays, under black plastic to protect them from degradation by the sun. Then they are pushed up and over the hoops, using long poles with U-shaped forks at the end. "Actually, we push a whole 900-foot roll to the top and fold it down both sides," she said. They do that for each bay. The cover is tied down with crisscrossed ropes in what Brumbley says is an ingenious system developed by Haygrove. The system is built to withstand high winds, but she tries to get the skins off before hurricane season comes in September. Cherries were an add-on to what had long been primarily a strawberry enterprise at Walnut Springs Fruit Farm. The giant strawberry directs potential customers to the farm. 16 MAY 15, 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER none." —Molly Brumbley Bird netting over the gutters and the ends of the tunnels keeps birds out. The tunnels keep insects like bumblebees in and keep insects like Japanese beetles out.

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