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Early Robin has the potential of meeting the demand for an early harvest Rainier-type cherry.

Early Robin has the potential of meeting the demand for an early harvest Rainier-type cherry.

Twenty years ago, fresh cherry producers in the Pacific Northwest were limited in their variety choices to primarily Bing and Rainier. Now, however, there is a plethora of available varieties with more appearing all the time. Increased diversity has largely been a positive experience for producers as it has allowed them to expand the growing season, reduce labor needs, and decrease the risk of rain and other weather-related damage.

With all of these new varieties, however, choosing the right one for a new planting can be both confusing and risky. For this reason, a sweet cherry variety trial was ­established at Omeg Orchards in The Dalles, Oregon, to evaluate new varieties ­available to growers. Some of the most recent introductions available to Pacific ­Northwest producers are reviewed in this article.

Kiona

Kiona is one of the most recent releases from the Washington State University breeding program. Suggested harvest timing for Kiona is about one week before Bing; however, in Oregon trials the fruit was only marginally firm at this time, averaging 211 g/mm over three years. With this information in mind, the fruit was harvested 11 days before Bing in 2009 and obtained a reasonable firmness of 283 g/mm with the earlier harvest. Fortunately, Kiona develops sugars early and is an excellent tasting cherry, even at this period of development.

Unfortunately, at this stage it is a mottled red instead of the usual mahogany color that consumers expect from PNW cherries. Whether or not consumers will purchase a light-colored cherry from the PNW is uncertain. Kiona blooms late and is in sweet cherry incompatibility Group XXI, a ­relatively rare group containing few, if any, commercial varieties. This means that almost any late blooming ­variety will serve as a pollinizer for Kiona.

Benton

Benton has been one of the top performers in Oregon trials in five years of evaluation, and market reports ­suggest that it ships well, arriving in good condition. The fruit is larger and more rain crack resistant than Bing and rivals Bing in its high eating quality. In a 2005 ­sensory evaluation conducted in Portland, consumers ranked it second only to Bing among early varieties for overall favorable qualities including appearance and taste.  Unfortunately, it ripens only a few days before Bing and for many producers falls into a mid-season harvest period when prices tend to be lower than ­cherries harvested just a few days earlier. Benton blooms late, and although it is self-fertile, it is not highly ­productive. For this reason some of the more productive rootstocks such as Gisela 6 or 12 or even Krymsk 5 or 6 will easily produce high quality fruit on good soils. Cowiche

In the 2005 sensory evaluation reported above, ­consumers stated that they preferred cherries that had a combination of both high sugars and high acids. If that is true, the variety Cowiche could become a very popular cherry due to its very high sugar content, averaging 24° Brix, and its high acid. Unfortunately, people are not the only ones who like this cherry. Birds have also shown a preference for Cowiche over other cherries. Cowiche is not self-fertile, but, like Kiona, it is in a unique compatibility group and will be pollinated with any commercial variety that blooms a few days after Bing. Cowiche is moderately late, ripening about nine days after Bing. Unfortunately, there have been reports of postharvest pitting with this variety.

Selah

Ripening at about the same time as Lapins, Selah is a very large, firm, great-tasting cherry. Unfortunately, in the two years that we have had commercial harvest of the variety in Oregon, pedicel retention has been a ­significant problem. Even with very careful harvesting practices, the pedicels readily detached from the fruit during picking and continued to fall off during the packing process, so that in many lots fewer than 50% of the fruit retained their pedicels in the box. Due to this problem alone, large acreages of Selah trees in Oregon that are only three or four years old were grafted over to another variety this spring. In addition, we have also found that a significant number of seeds will shatter as the fruit is being eaten, ­apparently due to undeveloped embryos.

Sunset Bing

Sunset Bing was found as a sport of Bing in a Washington orchard, and early reports suggested that it was similar to Bing in every respect except harvest date. Bloom timing, fruit size, and pedicel retention force are all similar to Bing. Harvest timing, however, is late, comparable in our trials to Sweetheart. Early reports suggested that Sunset Bing could be harvested as late as Staccato. However, in our trials, Sunset Bing seems to be overripe at the Staccato harvest timing. Unfortunately, taste is another area where Sunset Bing differs from Bing, as the flavor is milder than and not as pleasant as Bing.

Early Robin

Early Robin is a Rainier-type blush cherry discovered in a Rainier orchard in ­Washington State. The flavor is similar to Rainier in that it gives the overall impression of sweetness; however, it lacks the subtle acid balance that makes Rainier such a great-tasting cherry. Nevertheless, it is a reasonable approximation of Rainier in both flavor and appearance and provides the expansion of the blush market to an earlier window. The cherry is large, averaging 9½ row, and is significantly less susceptible to rain ­cracking than Rainier. Early Robin should perform well on Mazzard or on productive rootstocks such as Gisela 6 and 12.

Stardust

Stardust was bred by the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, and was released by the Okanagan Plant Improvement ­Corporation (PICO) as a late-season blush cherry with the potential to expand the blush harvest beyond Rainier. The fruit ripens 8 to 12 days after Rainier and has similar fruit size. Stardust blooms late, about one week after Bing, and, like most varieties released from the Summerland program, the tree is self-fertile. The cherries are firm, and the pedicel fruit retention is good. Unfortunately, the cherry lacks the sweet essence typically ­associated with Rainier, a deficiency that so far has limited its use as a late-season Rainier-type cherry.

Although several new varieties with good potential have recently become available to cherry growers in the Pacific Northwest, it is obvious that producers need to choose varieties carefully as they plan new orchards. Inferior flavor, low pedicel-fruit retention force, and a tendency towards soft fruit are just some of the hazards that should be avoided when choosing a new variety.