Cherry trees can only be grown in certain areas of South Africa. They prefer cold winters and don’t like hot summers, wind and frost. In addition, cherry trees are sensitive to root phytophthora and boll-worm. Birds love cherries and can devour up to 10% of the harvest. Growing cherries under netting is a solution to this problem.
Cherries are a crop with short harvest season. The cherry harvest in South Africa starts from week 41 – the second week in October, and ends around week 51 – the end of December, but certain varieties and late harvesting in some areas can extend the season into mid January.
Cherries are used to make cherry liqueurs and wines. Other cherry products such as cherry sauces, jams, canned and glazed cherries are also produced in South Africa. Dried, powered, freeze- dried and powered cherries in capsules are also available. But cherry concentrate (for juice etc) is imported.
Sweet cherry farming in South Africa started with the planting of cherry cultivars such as Early River, Early Red Five, Giant Heidelfinger and Bing. There are a large number of cherry varieties planted in South Africa, these include Royal Hazel, Royal Dawn, Royal Lynn, Royal Edie and Royal Helen. The most popular one grown by an individual producer is the red flavorful newcomer Royal Hazel. This is a variety with a good shelf life, is suitable for shipping and is already making up 10% of South Africa’s total plantings, of just under 390h/a. Other cherry cultivars also planted on large scale include Royal Edie and Royal Helen.
Cherries are a non – climacteric fruit – this means it is picked fully ripe and does not ripen further after harvesting. Cherry – picking is labor intensive as it needs to be hand – picked with the stems intact. An orchard will be picked up to 6 times in a season. Harvested cherries need to be cooled to 0,5°C as soon as possible; this is often done using a hydro-cooler.