Posted on May 31, 2012

I love this time of year. Cherries are the harbinger of fruit season here in California. They herald the coming bounty of great stone fruit – nectarines, peaches, and apricots. They presage the wide range of berries, from blueberries to raspberries, blackberries, and my favorite: olallieberries. Later in the season, apples ripen, and eventually into September and October the wine grapes are ready. But for me it all starts with cherries – sweet, dark, crisp cherries.

Cherries from Nola Orchards in Stockton, Calif.

This photo was taken by Julianne Nola, shortly after she and her daughters picked these cherries at her parents' orchard in Stockton, Calif.

2012 is looking to be a good year for cherries. The spring was dry and the blossoms pollinated nicely. The fruit set well and abundantly. Harvest, the most critical time for cherry farmers, has been blessedly dry. And the trees are heavy with beautiful, good size cherries. It should be an excellent crop.

That's certainly not the case every year. Cherries are a particularly challenging crop to farm because of rain. A heavy rain right before or during harvest will cause the fruit to split, and it's not uncommon to get some rain when the fruit is just ripening. Split cherries can't be marketed. They don't sell. So when it rains in May, the cherry farmers pray.

Losing a portion of the crop is not unusual, but some years are far worse than others. For Nola Orchards and other cherry farmers in the Central Valley, last year was a disaster. Julie's family lost the entire crop due to rain at the wrong time. It's difficult for most of us to know what that feels like – to work the entire year, tending to the trees, fertilizing, watering, spraying, paying for labor – and then have absolutely nothing to show for it. Crop insurance covers some of the cost, but it doesn't provide income. 2011 was a tough year for a lot of cherry farmers.

And that's why the picture above, a small sign of this year's bounty, is such a joy to share. After last year's difficult cherry season, those sweet beauties taste even sweeter.

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