Confessions of a North Natomas Cherry Grower

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Royal Ranier Cherries-3rd Year Crop
Somewhere -- a bird is laughing.

And plotting...

See -- I know this bird. I know this bird intimately. I know this bird well enough to know that his name isn't Bill -- nor is it Venus. But this bird and I do have something in common.

We both love Royal Ranier Cherries. And we'll both go through extraordinary measures to get our dirty little claws on them.

This is one smart bird.

Have you ever grown cherries in your backyard? This is a first for me. Oh -- I've RAIDED cherry trees in other backyards sure enough. Childhood memories from Ribier Avenue in Modesto are ripe with memories of monster trees loaded with thousands of fat, ripe, red cherries.

Royal Ranier Cherries-Two Weeks From Harvest
It was a child's delight "back in the day" to hoist myself halfway up one of those monster trees -- make myself comfortable on a couple of branches and eat cherries to the point where I was litterally sick of them. At that point I would jump down -- walk home -- only to return the very next day and repeat the same steps I had taken the day before.

There were always enough cherries.

I bring up this memory because it seems as if the timeline for actually growing cherries works a little like this:

Year 1: Plant cherry tree
Year 2: Cherry produces 1st small crop
Year 20: Finally get to enjoy your first cherry because it's the one cherry that hasn't been consumed by marauding neighborhood birds.

You see -- I'm a battle with the birds here in North Natomas. It's the Bird against the birds. The prize is a 3rd year crop of lip-smacking Royal Ranier Cherries. And the Bird is losing -- miserably.

The Royal Ranier Cherry Tree-Third Year
The wife that is Venus and I first learned that we would be going to battle every May after we saw a small 2nd year crop of Royal Ranier Cherries vanish overnight. We had just each tasted our first cherry from that 2nd year tree. We both agreed -- as good as those cherries were -- they needed another "day or two" of seasoning in the sunshine.

The birds didn't wait for seasoning. The next day our small crop was gone. I actually watched with chagrin as a robin popped into the tree -- and popped out with the final cherry -- stem and all. The look he gave me that particular day said it all. You can describe it with one word: SUCKER!!!

I had never done battle with the birds over cherry crops all those years ago in Modesto because the trees were so large and lush -- they produced more than enough cherries for an army of boys and birds to consume. It didn't matter if they got the crop at the top. There was more than enough on the lower branches to enjoy.

But that was a 30-year old tree. 30-year old cherry trees produce massively larger crops than three year old cherry trees do. And I'm not about to wait another 27-years to enjoy my first Royal Ranier Cherry. Neither is Venus. We'll both be using walkers by then.

A way to get rid of marauding birds?
So what is an enterprising North Natomas cherry tree grower to do then? I am reminded of a gorgeous young lady that I met one day last spring at a Sacramento Certified Farmer's market. This eye-catching, blue-eyed,  blonde cherry temptress was pushing a huge and wide variety of cherries freshly harvested from the family farm somewhere near Stockton.

When I asked this young lady for advice regarding marauding birds and cherry crops, those blue eyes flashed as she related a now famous line from Nazi Major Toht from a memorable bar fight scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: "Shoot Zem, Shoot Zem All."

Nice advice, but somehow I don't think the Bird neighbors surrounding the Back 40 ranch would appreciate it much if I started blazing away with a shotgun. I'm already pushing the envelope with the Hello Kitty colony of bees. Besides, shotguns and suburbs don't make for a good mix.

Scare Tape on the Royal Ranier Cherry Tree
So what is a frustrated cherry grower to do then? As this photo clearly illustrates -- I took the advice of a Kern County gardener and blogger by the name of Maybelline. "Scare tape," she advised. "Scare tape will keep them away." Sure enough -- I found said Scare Tape at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Nevada City -- and thought my problem to be solved.

Just one teensy-eeensy problem. Scare tape might "scare" the birds in Kern County. But here in Sacramento? Bird laugh at scare tape. In fact, they love it. They land right next to it -- and look at without nary a hint of alarm. In fact -- some of that "scare tape" has found it's way into bird nests around the neighborhood.

How do I know this? When you see a bird's next glistening in the sun? You just know. Scare tape that I dutifully tied to cherry and plum trees plus a thornless boysenberry bush that is now in tatters from some bird shredding it into pieces is yet another good sign.

Precious the Cat: Not a fan of Scare Tape
The scare tape did work on one creature. It scared the bird-killer cat of mine into the next yard. That was about the only defense I had against marauding birds anyway, and now Precious the Cat has flown the coop.

The next line of defense? The next line of defense is netting that I purchased out of frustration last year when marauding birds helped themselves to half of the June Pride peach crop that year. Now -- I'm not THAT stingy. I don't mind sharing a fresh fruit meal with my feathered friends. But when the feathered friends started helping themselves to EVERY peach on the June Pride tree? That meant war.

I must admit -- the netting did work wonders when I placed it on the O'Henry Peach tree later that summer. The wife and I enjoyed a late season harvest of beautiful -- un-bird molested -- O'Henry peaches. But I didn't like the effect the netting had on the tree itself. Branches were bent in a downward motion -- and never did straighten out. The tree still doesn't look quite right from a late summer netting -- and this year's terrible bout of peach leaf curl isn't helping matters much either.

Still -- the scare tape was doing everything BUT scare the marauding birds eyeing the Royal Ranier Cherry crop -- so on the netting went this weekend.

Bird after the Bird Cherry crop!
The response has been less than desired. Despite my efforts to tie up every loose nook and cranny -- one bird in particular continues to find his way inside. In fact -- he takes great delight in chattering how much of a fool I am. If he isn't locating holes in the netting at the bottom of the tree -- he's ripping this hole that I tied off with string in the top.

I've caught this one particular bird inside this netting three times today alone. Each time I dutifully locate and close off the hole I've left open -- or the hole he's managed to create. But somehow I think I'm fighting a losing battle.

I've had a weekend to battle this bird. Tomorrow? It's back to work and back to the workplace.

Somewhere a bird is waiting...

And laughing...


Fred Hoffman said...

I know an enterprising cherry tree owner in Wilton who constructed a pvc frame around his seven foot tall cherry tree. The frame serves double duty: as a reminder to prune his tree to stay within the bounds of the pvc frame; and, it serves as a solid support for bird netting in May. Plus, it is easy to put on and take off. And since you're a big fan of pvc....

Bill Bird said...

That is a FANTASTIC idea sir! Remember, it takes others to think of good ideas and then it takes me to steal it. I am the home of non-original thought. Would you have a photo of this particular setup perchance?

Indoor Fountains said...

I am very impressed with the PVC idea and might be stealing it as well...

Laura Bell said...

PVC framing ? Genius ! It comes in 20-foot lengths too. Now to get the hubby (with truck) over to the Depot so I can make a frame for my 20-foot tree. I've been toying with the idea of stitching together nets so that I'll have enough to cover the whole tree top to bottom without gaps, but haven't figured the best 'thread' to use for it - fishing line maybe?

Good luck in you battle - and watch out for cherry maggots !

Fred Hoffman said...

Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis offers the suggestion that by covering that pvc frame with fine mesh screening instead of bird netting, you might thwart the evil intentions of the cherry maggots (spotted wing drosophila).

SouthCoast Guy said...

How about using bird distress calls...the place where I pick my blueberries swears by them

Anonymous said...

We use the thinner walled PVC so it will bend easy. We arch three or four of them over the tree crossing over the top of the tree. For support, we push rebar into the ground leaving 2-3 ft above ground, then slide the pvc over the rebar to hold it in place. We typically tie or tape the PVC together at the top. Alternately we arch two or three parallel to each other, then one crosswise and tie them together where they cross.

Sara said...
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Sara said...

I feel your pain. Last year our very large, old, East Sac cherry tree gave us 4 cherries. FOUR. The birds beat us to all of the rest. The tree is so large that we missed the window on getting any netting onto it this year. Next year I shall be sure to hit you up for help on this project ;-)

Sara said...
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