Rain Storm Results: Cherries doused by cloudbursts

For every cherry farmer, the key to harvest success at this time of year is fruit maturity, timing, weather and a lot of luck.

Sunday night’s flashy and loud tempest, which swooped in with dazzling lightning, brought brief, heavy rain, thunder and a soaking-wet wave of related challenges to some west valley cherry farmers.

“Most of the rain fell on the west side in the Oak Grove area and there was a report of hail on Dee Highway,” said Corey Yasui, field representative for Diamond Fruit. “We didn’t see significant damage, though — maybe 3-5 percent. It’s fairly minimal.”

Water on mature cherry skins can lead to “soft cherries” or splits. The greatest potential crop loss comes when mature, permeable fruit skins take in water and swell, causing cracks to form, damaging or destroying the final product. Warm weather speeds up that process. Splits equal loss and soft cherries create challenges for packing and shelf life.

Hood River, whose cherry crop tends to mature later than The Dalles, continues to be at the mercy of unseasonable bouts of rain, like the one on Sunday.

When rain falls, costly interventions for farmers begin and removing water from the fruit becomes a race with high stakes.

“They’ll be doing whatever they can,” said Yasui. “The guys will be running their fans and using their sprayers to blow them dry.”

Cooler temperatures overnight Sunday and drying winds may have spared some cherries from “split,” which can occur in warm weather following a moderate rain — particularly when the cherries are close to harvest.

Cherry orchardist Judy Streich said, “If it rains at night or when it’s cool and cloudy or windy, it can help minimize the damage to cherries.”

Often following summer storms, cherry farmers apply a three-pronged salvage operation: low-flying helicopters or fans, calcium chloride and copious amounts of worry and prayer.

The salt spray changes the surface tension of the rainwater, slowing water penetration into the fruit skins.

The helicopter’s whirling blades, hovering very close to the trees, help shed water from the fruit’s skin — also preventing the swell-split action of rain on mature fruit.

Both interventions are geared to maintain the quality of the ripening fruit.

The praying and worrying? Well, that is just something that comes with the territory.

“With cherries, it’s a worry and concern until you get them in the box,” said Streich.

Streich reported on her Woodworth Drive farm at the 1,200-foot elevation which received only minimal drizzle. “We hardly got a sprinkle up here, thank goodness,” she said.

“We had no rain in the mid-valley. Our cherries are just fine,” said Maija Yasui, whose orchard lies just off of Highway 35.

Packing house field men are now out in the orchards talking with individual farmers to assess the damage and losses. With thunderstorms predicted through Tuesday, after press deadlines, the long-term results will remain to be seen.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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