Picker Noha Nahli and Sara Duffin display some of the sweet cherries available to pick-your-own enthusiasts at Duffin Farms. DON RICKERS

Wild spring weather results in delicious crop of cherries

Bill Duffin, owner of Duffin Farms, characterized it as a “rollercoaster ride.”

He’s referring to the spring weather, which featured some frost and snow in late April and early May, and placed his six acres of cherry trees in harm’s way.

“The extremes [of weather] are really not compatible with tender fruit growing,” he said. “We had a wet snow covering blossoms, with two or three inches covering the whole tree. I’ve never seen that before in my 50 years of farming, blossoms blooming and covered with snow. Then the warmth came, and the snow melted. The blossoms didn’t fall off, because they were insulated by the snow.”

Bill’s wife, Kim, runs their retail store, on Rice Road south of Highway 20, while he tends to the farm, and their daughter, Sara, an architect by profession, helps out in high season by handling the pick-your-own logistics.

“In farm families, everyone has to pitch in,” said Bill with a laugh.

With Covid loosening its grip, business is on the upswing. Many visitors come on the weekend from Toronto. The Duffins used to have busloads of pick-your-own tourists descend on the farm, but with social distancing still in place, the people drive as families in cars now.

“We try and keep families separated by assigning each a tree,” said Bill.

All of the Duffin crop is sweet cherries, but they bring in sours for their pies and other baked goods.

We try and keep families separated by assigning each a tree

Bill gave this city slicker the low-down on the normal schedule for crop ripening.

“By my calendar, we’re about ten days ahead this year,” he said. “Rhubarb is the first to ripen, then the strawberries. Blueberries and raspberries are ready in July, along with plums, and peaches in August. Apples kick in during the first or second week of August, and the pears come later.

Kim Duffin noted how sweet the cherry crop is this year.

“We had that cold snap, but also some real heat that produced a lot of sugar in the fruit,” she said.

Three-litre baskets of sweet cherries are $20, and take about ten minutes to hand-pick. Larger and smaller containers are available. Bill Duffin said that the trees are pruned low, so that it’s not really necessary to use a ladder to fill a basket. Many varieties of sweet cherries are available, including Hedelfingers, Cavaliers, and the traditional standard, Bings (which generally ripen a bit later in the season). Duffin said that they also have new varieties of cherries that are especially resistant to splitting.

Sara highlighted that cherry-themed T-shirts are for sale, which, like the fruit itself, are made in Canada.

A few kilometres down the road in Fenwick, Dan DeVries, manager at DeVries Fruit Farm, said that his cherry crop is not quite ready.

“We haven’t really started harvesting cherries yet,” he said. “We’re still probably a week out on sweet cherries, and about three weeks away for sours. Around July 12 is when we’ll start the sour cherry harvest, and maybe July 5 for the sweets.”

DeVries does not offer pick-your-own, and charges six dollars for a quart of sweets, with bigger baskets going for $10, $12, $18, and $24.

“There was some frost that was a little bit concerning in late April, early May,” he said, “but it’s looking a lot better now than it did two weeks ago. The cherries are starting to color up. It’s not a bumper crop this year, just a nice overall average crop.”

The DeVries farm has almost 60 acres of cherry trees, with most of them sours, sold pitted, by the pail.