Regina, the shy bearer
An Oregon grower shares his strategies for profitably growing this European cherry.
Manuel Ybarra of Quincy, Washington, and other Pacific Northwest growers learn about how to maximize Regina cherry production at the Omeg Orchard in The Dalles, Oregon.
The German cherry variety Regina has numerous good attributes but tends to crop lightly. However, it's possible to overcome that, Lynn Long, Oregon State University Cooperative Extension educator in The Dalles, explained during a cherry field day this summer.
Regina has been planted fairly extensively in Oregon's Mid-Columbia region, but has not been planted much in Washington State or other cherry-growing regions—except for Europe, where it has replaced some of the standard varieties in the later districts, Long said. "One of the reasons Washington growers have shied away from Regina is because of the yield, but it can be quite a profitable cherry."
The variety is actually very precocious, he said. Young trees can bloom profusely, with the potential for a good yield in the third leaf, but they do not always set a large crop. Growers need to make sure they have adequate pollinizers and put extra bees in their Regina blocks, Long said.
Mike Omeg of The Dalles talked about what his family has done to improve fruit set in Regina cherries without sacrificing too much orchard space to pollinizers. They plant pollinizers between two Regina trees, somewhat like crab apples in apple orchards, rather than allotting them their own space.
"It's a way not to waste tree space that could be Regina," Omeg explained. "A lot of the pollinizers we use in Regina we don't pick."
The pollinizers are trained to a Y system. They are pruned right after bloom to keep them small and to encourage them to produce lots of blossoms. Omeg said he did not want to devigorate them by pruning later in the season.
He uses Sam, Stark's Gold, and Attika as pollinizers.
"We put in three pollinizers because we want a large volume of pollinizer bloom present throughout the entire blooming period of Regina, which is a moving target from year to year," he explained. "We reduce our risk of missing pollinizing by having lots of pollen and different pollinizers there."
He also places more bees in his Regina blocks, renting more than five colonies per acre.
Long said research has shown that the longevity of the Regina ovule can be very short when the weather is hot, and there must be pollen available during the short window when the flower is receptive.
Sam bloom probably coincides the best with Regina, but some pollinizers should already be in bloom before the Regina blossoms open. Stark's Gold and Attika bloom a little ahead of Regina. Some growers use Sandra Rose.
Omeg plants a pollinizer tree after every fifth Regina tree in the row, cycling the three types of pollinizers he uses. In the adjacent row, the pollinizers are offset so that they are evenly distributed in the block. Omeg said a study of Regina on Gisela 6 rootstock showed that the trees closest to the pollinizers were the most productive.
His recent plantings are on Gisela 12. In 1999, his father, Mel Omeg, planted a trial with side-by-side rows of G.6, G.12, Krymsk, and Weiroot, and felt that the G.12 performed the best. It had a good balance of vigor and production.
Dwarfing rootstocks, such as Gisela, Krymsk, and Weiroot, require significantly more management than Mazzard and are much less forgiving of mistakes, he warned. "To maintain vigor and maintain the size of the fruit is a bigger challenge with Gisela, but it's something that's not overwhelming. We feel that the advantages with Gisela, as in early production and the ability to grow a short tree and harvest the fruit from the ground, outweigh the disadvantages.
"I don't want to oversimplify," he continued, "but it almost seems that if you take a Mazzard block and have it next to a Gisela block, you're doing almost the opposite as far as horticultural techniques, tree training, and pruning, and also nutrition. The Giselas require a completely different nutritional plan to manage good vigor. If you were to feed the Mazzard block what you're feeding the Gisela block, you'd have no fruit and they'd be growing 12 feet a year. It would be impossible."
Omeg applies a baseline amount of nitrogen in the spring: 100 pounds per acre for trees on Mazzard and 125 pounds for Gisela trees. Additional fertilizer will depend on the soil type and the history of the block. He takes leaf samples to determine what needs to be applied as a foliar feed.
His Regina trees are trained to a central leader system, whereas most of his other varieties are on the steep leader or open vase system. Omeg said Regina's natural growth tendency is conducive to the central leader because of its flat branches. The trees are kept fairly short, with the first whorl of branches low to the ground.
"We're preparing for the inevitable labor shortage," Omeg said. "Labor is going to be an ever increasing challenge for us in cherries, and consequently I want to be able to harvest as much of the fruit from the ground as possible to reduce the amount of labor we need to harvest our crops."
However, if the orchard was truly pedestrian, productivity would suffer, he said. "I don't mind using a ladder, but I think the days of using a 14-foot ladder are pretty much over. Our crews argue over who gets to use the 12-foot ladders. In a few years, they'll be arguing over who uses the 10s and then the 8s."
Asked why he planted Regina rather than another variety, such as Skeena or Bing, Omeg said he wants varieties that maximize the net return per acre and fit into his harvest schedule. "It's a great cherry. People like the taste. It's easy to grow big, probably because it's hard to grow a lot of them, and it ships very well."
In addition, it is more resistant to rain cracking than other varieties. It matures around the same time as Lapins, about ten days after Bing. Long said with good pollination and vigor, a mature Regina block can yield eight tons or more per acre. "I think it's a great cherry," he concluded.