Archive for Thursday, June 3, 2010

The cherry on top

June 3, 2010

Everyone knows the famous fable about how a youthful George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and proved his honesty by admitting the offense. Now I believe I know the reason behind the incident: His father ordered young George to put netting over the tree to prevent birds from filching the ripe, red and delicious berries.

Being a highly intelligent youth, George simply decided to get rid of the tree before he had to fight the battle of netting again.

This revelation came to me recently when I was assigned to help Jean put bird netting over a cherry tree in our back yard. Every year the tree has a bounty of nice-looking berries, and before we could get the ladder around, the birds cleaned the tree. After a bit of reading and Internet study, Jean decided she was going to win the battle this year and protect the cherries with netting.

It all seemed very simple — you get on a ladder and pull the netting over the tree, and you’re done. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that things sound much simpler when reading the directions. In practice, everything is much more difficult. In fact, I would equate putting netting on a cherry tree with trying to get net panty hose on an 800-pound gorilla.

We encountered several problems. First, our cherry tree took up residence next to a hedge tree. This meant that there were thorn-laden branches encroaching on the territory of the cherry tree. The first chore was to trim back the hedge tree. Despite a variety of scratches, this task was accomplished, and we had a reasonably clear path to the top of the tree.

That’s where we faced our second problem. While most cherry trees are short and squatty, ours is over 20 feet! To get the netting over the top, we had to use poles. Now, I never was agile, and age has taken the small measure I once possessed, so I was balancing on one foot at the top of a ladder trying to get the netting over the tree. Of course, the netting comes packaged, so it didn’t want to stretch out, compounding the problem.

Finally, after sweating, cussing, tugging and complaining, the netting finally moved over the very top branch of the tree and almost protected the crop of cherries.

All of this got me thinking about cherries, and with just a little research, I discovered the simple, tasty cherry has a long history. I was surprised to learn cherries are a species of prunus, the name given to trees and shrubs of the rose family. There were dozens of varieties of cherry trees, ranging from low bushes to lofty trees. Cherry trees can be found in many areas of the word and have long been prized for their delicious berries.

Archeologists have discovered cherry pits in ancient caves, and it would appear cherries were a favorite treat of our prehistoric relatives. Roman soldiers loved cherries and carried them into much of Europe and England.

Cherries thrive in the United States and are a good cash crop in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Michigan. In fact, the United States is the second-largest producer of cherries. A couple of years ago, the United States produced 310,000 metric tons of cherries, which was 13 percent of the world’s supply. The biggest producer of cherries was Turkey, with 398,000 metric tons.

I read several places where cherries are very good for people. Unfortunately, the sour variety of cherries is far more healthful than the sweeter ones.

Yes, it was a struggle getting the protective netting over the tree. However, during the struggle, I kept thinking of one thought: a delicious cherry pie covered with vanilla ice cream. Will I be part of the project next year? Well, that all depends on me getting a cherry pie for dessert.

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