Winter is Ending, Spring is Approaching

It is hard to believe, but we are at the start of spring. But first, let’s see what happens at the orchard as winter is approaching its end.

Cherry Buds: Behind every cherry… is a very busy bud!

When someone mentions cherries we all think about those tasty, little, red juicy fruits we all look forward to enjoying over summer. But let’s stop for a minute and think about the magic that happens over the course of the year to create these tasty favourites.

Image 1: The cluster

Let us introduce the CHERRY BUD. It is a very fragile and important powerhouse of the cherry tree. The more of these on your tree the more cherries in your basket. The bud itself remains on the tree from when the previous seasons cherries are picked. They may only be little at this point – but it’s there!

There are 2 types of buds on the tree - leaf buds and flower buds. They are both packed up together in a CLUSTER (see image 1.)  You can see there are several buds in the cluster and out of these 1 is a leaf bud (usually the middle one) which will spring out only leaves.

The remaining buds in the cluster are flower buds. When the time is right, each bud will burst open and anywhere from 5 to 7 flowers will emerge. This is where we rely on good pollination (that’s another story for Spring). If the weather has been just right and the bees have been busy we hope that each of these flowers will become a cherry.

As the seasons change over the year, the bud goes through a series of unseen transformations. Without getting too technical, each season has an effect on the creation of healthy buds.

AUTUMN is the time that these buds draw important nutrients from the tree to prepare itself for ‘Wintering’ or dormancy. Dormancy is the stage where the tree basically shuts down to protect its very sensitive tissues from damage due to cold/freezing conditions.

WINTER is probably the most important stage. And the longer and colder the better… perhaps not for us, but for the secret workings going on inside the buds it is critical. Last year we talked about ‘chill hours’ and how important they are to cherries. Cherries require a certain amount of these Chill hours to help the tree bear as many cherries as it thinks it can manage that season. If we don’t get the required Chill hours it may result in a small crop or problematic bloom. A good chilly winter with high Chill will help encourage the tree to nurture/produce more flowers within each bud and successfully snap out of dormancy when the time is right – in turn meaning more cherries to eat (see image 2 below).

Image 2: internal view of a bud over winter. A good healthy bud with lots of chill would have lots of green (L) ones of these, a low chill may have just a couple with a couple of brown (D - dead) ones.

SPRING: this is the pretty time where the bud will now transform into a stunning ‘POP’ of flowers and leaves. Spring is a crucial time for the thousands of buds on the tree to burst out: overflow with blossoms and pollen, waiting for the hungry bees to buzz on by and pollinate. The bud has done its job and hopefully lots of cherries are the reward! We will talk further about spring and its beauty in our next update.

Image 3: a healthy budburst. You can see the leaf bud in the centre.

But as you can see it is VERY important that we protect these buds all year. They are there and very exposed over the winter months.  If they get damaged or broken off, that bud is gone and subsequently there will be no cherries.  And what would be the point of that! This is the reason we are unable to allow people to wander into the orchard, climb the trees or pick cherries without proper training. It’s next years very important crop that’s at risk of damage.

We need to nurture and protect these precious wonders – what would life be without looking forward to filling our Christmas tables with our delicious cherries?

Dung Beetles

We are always looking to improve the quality of our soils at the orchard. In what we believe is a first for the Yarra Valley, we have imported 1000 winter active dung beetles (bubas bison) from South Australia last year to assist us in soil quality uplift and reducing some of the impact that our cattle have on our environment.

The bubas bison is a member of the group of deep tunnelling dung beetles which play a special role in agriculture. They live in cow dung pads, where they lay their eggs. Because they tunnel into the sub-soil, they bury the dung deep into the soil profile, and at the same time bring out a lot of sub-soil to the surface. The deep tunnels facilitate movement of moisture and plant roots into the subsoil, where beetle activity raises the levels of nutrients and moisture, creating more favourable conditions for plant roots.

The subsoil brought to the surface also improves the fertility of surface soils.

Another important role they play is removing the pasture smothering effects of surface dung and reducing movement of the phosphates and nitrates found in dung, into local waterways by water runoff.

The beetles will have a life cycle of up to 3 years, and they colonise dung pads - laying up to 50 eggs before they die.

Our beetles have been busy having a lot of tunnelling fun, into all the cows dung pads that are in each of our paddocks. There are already signs that the dung beetles have done great work in the paddocks.

Over the next few weeks, we will be seeing cherry blossom beauties opening up all throughout the orchard. It's the most exciting and photogenic time of the year!

Once the cherry trees start to blossom, we bring in hives of honey bees to help pollinate all the flowers. The busy bees are hard at work here, without them we wouldn't have our glorious cherries to look forward to. We will talk more about these bees in our next update!