Cherry blossoms in early April are incredibly lovely, aren’t they? and incredibly fragile. They open their snowy petals for pollinators to do their jobs when the chance of freeze or frost is still real and so one wonders: is this too early? will a frost come and wipe out this year’s crop? or will they survive and turn into Bing? Royal Ann? Somerset? Lapins? Viscount? Will it be sorrow and frustration or will it be joy and good picking?
On April 4, Garrick Giebel and Ann Grenade opened their hilltop cherry orchard – aptly named “Cherries-on-Top” – in Flint Hill, VA for Rappahannock’s own little cherry blossom festival as well as for people to meet them, the new orchard owners.
You see, Garrick and Ann did not mean to operate a cherry orchard. The property went to the market in 2007, following the accidental death of its prior owner. The pair bought in 2008 for its incomparable views. It came with 800 cherry trees.
After some soul-searching, Garrick – who comes from a corporate IT career – decided that he would operate it as a cherry orchard. Over the last year, he got himself a crash-course education in fruit growing and marketing: from learning how to recognize and deal with pests, to how and when to apply fungicide, from how to prune and how to graft to dealing with weeds, from how to market to how to dry cherries – and more. Over the winter, he’s been pruning and tidying; and pruning; and pruning. Tidying; and pruning – all by himself. 800 trees. More or less since the bears damaged some: they love cherries too.
This year – if the blossoms’ promises hold true – will be his first year picking. Cherries ripen over a narrow window in Virginia. There are 10 cultivars in the orchard, and, if he is lucky, Garrick would harvest from early June to very early July. Cherries don’t wait for you. You’ve got to pick fast, without damaging them or the trees, cool them fast and take them to market fast. In good condition. Or have a pick-your-own operations, which Ann & Garrick plan to do. If the blossoms give birth to viable fruit.
Will the promises hold?