Bite: An early cherry season


Having survived April’s frost unscathed, cherries are early this year in Flanders and ripe for the picking

Mild winter

The Belgian Fruit Auction in the Limburg town of Sint-Truiden auctioned off the first cherries of the season in mid-May at €18 per kilo. The premiere batch again came from growers Kurt Notelteirs and Greet De Wilde of Ranst, Antwerp province, who have had bragging rights to the first cherries of the season for 13 years straight.

Not coincidentally, perhaps, they are also the only local producer to grow their cherries in a greenhouse. “In the Netherlands, it is commonplace to grow cherries in greenhouses, while this is not the practice in Belgium,” explains De Wilde. “But because the results are so good, we will continue to expand our operations.”

Notelteirs is an agricultural engineer who took over the fruit-growing business of his father about 16 years ago. Back then, he had 10 acres to work with; the area has more than doubled since. “With the experience I had in greenhouse cultivation, I decided to try my hand at growing organic cherries in a small corner of the greenhouse,” says De Wilde. “We had a nice harvest in just a few years.”

Cherry season started particularly early this year because of the mild winter. “I expect the season to peak between the third week of June and mid-July,” says Filip Lowette, general manager of the national fruit auction. “Luckily, April’s frost didn’t cause any major damage to the cherry blossoms.”

The cherry is a stone fruit and its tree belongs to the rose family. In Flanders, kers refers to a sweet cherry, the kind you just pop into your mouth. A sour cherry, or kriek, is equally popular, especially for incorporating into tarts, jams or the famous kriek beer.

In June and July, fruit producer Jacobs in Sint-Truiden opens its orchards to the public for cherry plucking. A tractor brings you to the trees heaviest with the fruit, where you can pick (and sneak a taste) to your heart’s content. All the cherries you collect get weighed and charged at a day price per kilogram. A full basket of cherries weighs 8kg and comes with a €4 discount. It is recommended to register in advance if you want to pluck on a Saturday.

Having survived April’s frost unscathed, cherries are early this year in Flanders and ripe for the picking.

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Flemish agriculture and horticulture

Flanders is an important global food exporter. The main agricultural activities differ from region to region – with pig, cow, vegetable and dairy-farming the most important. In recent years, the sector has been heavily affected by the economic downturn and falling global food prices.
Green - Organic farming accounts for just a fraction of Flemish agriculture, but the sector has slowly been growing in recent years.
Greenhouse - Flanders has been a trailblazer in mapping the carbon footprint of agriculture.
Forgotten - Flemish horticulture’s “Bel’Orta” label aims to promote lesser-known vegetables like parsnip, parsley root and kohlrabi.

percent of Belgium’s fruit harvest comes from Flanders

25 982

agriculture businesses in Flanders in 2011

51 530

people employed in Flemish agriculture and horticulture in 2011