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  Growing your own cherries
The Highveld region sunny winters create sunburn, and ultimately,

The Cherry Capital of the World, Situated in the scenic panorama of the Eastern Free State.

known as the Mountain Kingdom or Kingom in the Sky, holds a wealth of different experiences...

Iis a perennial vegetable native to Western Europe.
It is a member of the lily family.

Butternut and Cherry Dish
Danish Cherry Tart
Cherry Caulis

  • History of the Cherries
  • How the Festival Start
  • Grow Your Own cherry
  • The story of Glazed Cherries
The history of cherries in South Africa
Cherries have pleased the palates of food lovers for centuries. Their ruby-red colour and sweet taste won cherries a noble place on the tables of Roman conquerors, Greek citizens, and Chinese noblemen. German missionaries brought cherries to South Africa by ship with early settlers in the 1900’s.

The first successful cherry trees were planted in South Africa in 1905 on the farm Platkop in the Clocolan district after Harry Pickston had contacted German missionaries in South Africa with questions about growing cherries. A year later five hectares of trees were brought to Clocolan to be planted on the farm.

The varieties included Giant Heidelfinger, Bing, Early River, Early Red, and Elton. Some of the original cherry trees can still be seen on the farm today. These cultivars are still grown in the area. It is estimated that there are 500 hectares of cherry trees in the Eastern Free State concentrated mainly in the Ficksburg, Clocolan and Fouriesburg area.

There are approximately 250 trees per hectare and the average yield per hectare is 10 tons. Maraschino cherries, most often used in drinks and in ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries. The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the “Marasca.”

The first Cherry Festival was held in Ficksburg in 1968, launched by the local Jaycees with a street parade through town, a Cherry Ball and the crowning of a Cherry Queen. The Festival has grown over the years into an event during which more than 24 000 people visit the festival. The festival is beneficial to Ficksburg because it creates employment and is the town’s largest marketing tool. The committee responsible for organising the event consists of 15 members who do all the work on a voluntary basis.
Ficksburg is situated in the heart of the Eastern Free State and boasts a cosmopolitan population.

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How the festival started in 1968
The idea for the first Cherry Festival took root in 1968 when a group of young men who had founded a Ficksburg chapter of Jaycee International, the international service/leadership development organisation, were looking for a project to launch their new organisation and perform a service to the community. Many ideas were thrown around, so it is difficult to say exactly how a Cherry Festival was arrived at!!!

What is sure, however, is that Ficksburg is the largest cherry producing area in South Africa, followed by its two neighbours, Clocolan and Fouriesburg, and to a lesser extent parts of the Ladybrand district. The Jaycees thus connected a Ficksburg product to a festival which would then promote the cherry industry and the town. Today Ficksburg is known throughout the country as the Cherry Town, and the two have become synonymous with each other.

Through the years the Cherry Festival has grown in stature, and has become one of the ‘events’ in South Africa, with thousands of visitors visiting the Eastern Free State during cherry time. Special bus tours have become very popular, and Ficksburg has become a ‘must’ for tour operators. The first Cherry Carnival, as it was then known, was a very amateurish presentation consisting a film-show at which the Cherry Queen was chosen, followed the next day by a street procession of floats, drum-majorettes, etc, and an open-air Programmeme at which not very much happened.

The grand Cherry Ball was, however, a great success. Today the presentation is very professional and slick and the whole Programmeme caters for a wide variety of tastes. To the best of our knowledge the Cherry Festival it is the oldest crop festival in South Africa. The Jaycees ran the festival from 1968 to 1985. After Jaycees disbanded in 1985, a community committee took over the organising and running of the festival. This committee is made up each year out of representatives of various sections of the community,who do all the hard work on a voluntary basis. For more information on Ficksburg © 2011 St.Ives Communications

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Grow your own cherries
In the Highveld region sunny winters create sunburn, and ultimately, bacterial canker problems. This can be prevented by choosing a site with afternoon shade, created by a wall, larger trees etc. If this is not possible, tripod shadenet structures can be placed on the north-west side of each tree. These are made with three small poles and 50% shade net, 1,5m high. The structures can initially be close to each tree, and moved further away as branching begins. Space trees about 3-5m in the row, by 5-6m between rows. Mix varieties for cross-pollination. Have a pollinator every 2nd to every 5th tree. Dig big holes, at least 0,5 x 0,5m. Loosen bottom and sides of hole with fork. Mix soil from hole with equal amount of compost, and incorporate bone meal (or supersulphate) and potassium. Do not apply any nitrogen.

During the growing season kraal manure can be placed loosely around the hole which will release nutrients downwards slowly throughout the rainy season. Plant the tree with about 10cm of rootstock above the soil level. The soil being thrown back in the hole should be loose, free of clods, and well mixed with compost.
Quite a lot of soil will have to be thrown in before the tree is placed, to elevate it to the correct depth. Water well, and cover with loose soil, to prevent crusting and cracking, 2 days after watering. A mulch, of grass, compost or any plant material around the hole must be applied at this stage.

During the winter moisture is retained well in the soil – just make sure it is moist. In spring and summer, water according to rainfall patterns, as you would the rest of your garden. With the use of manure, it is not necessary to fertilise at all. Manure, as a dressing around the hole will ensure sufficient nutrient supply, applied only in the summer months. Head trees back to 650mm from ground after planting. Use a bamboo stake to support. Make sure the stake is not up against the tree, and tie with a loose stocking or stretch tape so as not to ring-bark the stem. During the growing season, select 2-3 leader branches which will grow upwards. Remove all lower branches. In the second year, lateral branches will develop on the leaders. Ensure these do not become stronger than the leaders by cutting back in the summer when they look threatening. Only control ones that become strong.
Usually a cluster of branches develops at the tips of the leaders. These must be cut back, leaving only the strongest single upright branch. The lateral branches on the leaders will in time develop spurs, which bear fruit

Very little spraying is necessary. Copper Oxychloride must be sprayed on the entire tree, including the stem, at 75% leaf drop (May), mid winter (July), and at budswell (Aug). Mix 500g per 100 litres of water. This is a preventative measure for bacterial canker (Pseudomonas). Do not spray this on green leaves, only on dormant trees.
Cherry slugs appear on leaves in the summer. These are insect larvae, not real slugs. Spray when seen with a pyrethroid or chlorpyrifos. Scale insects can be controlled with endosulfan or mineral oil in the dormant season. Red spider mite in the late summer can be controlled with amitraz. Depending on your area, specific pests may occur. Beetles are easily removed by hand, rather than spraying. Contact your supplier for advice on symptoms one feels vague about. Cherries have fewer problems with mildews than apples. Bing is a mid-season dark red cultivar, ripening about the middle of November. It is well pollinated by Van and Sweet Ann. These are also dark red varieties, ripening at the same time as Bing.
The story of glazed cherries
When one thinks of Ficksburg, one thinks mostly of cherries, asparagus and sandstone mountains. Very few people know, however, that all of South Africa’s glazed cherries are produced in Ficksburg. This product is one of Ficksburg’s best kept secrets. Not even most residents of Ficksburg are aware that South Africa’s whole production of glazed cherries comes from this quaint town.

Glazed cherries are traditionally produced from yellow cherries, with Napoleon and Emperor Francis being the varieties used. These cherries have to be picked when they are a straw coloured yellow to produce a perfect glazed cherry. If they start turning red they must be bleached or they will have blemishes once they are glazed.
Yellow cherries are divided into three categories: glazed, which account for 600 tons for the South African Market; Maraschino: 300 tons; and non-bleding cherries: 1200 tons. Non-bleeding cherries are those which are used in canned mixed fruit. Of the total 2100 tons of cherries required in this country, only 220 tons are produced in South Africa. The rest is imported from Italy.

The glazing process is very simple, but you need a lot of time. The cherries are stored in plastic drums in a solution of water, sodium metabysulphate, salt and chlorine for a minimum of six weeks. The solution is at a ph of 2.5. Cherries can be stored in this solution for up to five years.
Once the cherries are ready for glazing, they are hand-sorted before they are graded into various sizes. They are mechanically de-pipped by a special de-pipping machine imported from Canada. This is the only known one in South Africa.
The cherries are put into a double-walled pot and kept at a temperature of 90 deg C for five days. This process cooks out the sodium metabysulphate. After the fifth day the temperature is reduced to 50 deg C for fourteen days.

At this point the colourants and sugars are added. There are four types of sugars used: lactose, sucrose, glucose and fructose. Once the cherries have been cooked, they are cooled down and strained and the syrup bled off. They then pass over a light-table to check that there are no pips before they are packed. At this point each cherry has been hand-touched nine times. Brand names under which glazed cherries are sold are Trumps, Moirs, Maluti and Sugarbird. The most popular colour is red, followed by green. Although yellow glazed cherries are produced, they tend not to be popular.
The market experiences high sales volumes at Easter-time and then at the end of July for the build-up to Christmas.
  Cherry Glazed

Cherry Glazed 2

Cherry glazed3

Glazed cherries need no
special storage facility and
they will not crystallize due
to the process they have been
put through.

This gives them and indefinite
shelf life.

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1. Cherry Trees can be purchased from Potplantland in Ficksburg Contact them on  051 933 6508

2. - Cherry Fruit can be purchased from Fresh Stop in Ficsburg, 98 McCabe Street, Tel: 051 933 2962
    - You can also buy the cherry fruit at the cherry festival showground during the festival period
4. If need of going to the Cherry Farms Tours. Please click here to book

5. Seasonal Cherry fruit start from October to December

6. Cherry Recipe. Find out more

We’ve decided not to take part in the world recession and are ready, willing and able to bring you a totally “new” Cherry Festival!...
One of the most difficult things to do is to maintain a good brand name and the Cherry Festival is no exception.

Following a survey last year in which people were asked to rate this annual event, the organising committee and I decided that it was in our own interests to re-develop the festival to include all aspects of family entertainment, so look out for this facet at the 2012 festival.

Attending exhibitions like the Getaway Show and Indaba have been very useful as platforms to introduce our festival to the rest of South Africa. .. As a festival, we are very open to criticism and always try to react in a positive way to make changes and bring you only the best.

Make sure to diarise the Cherry Festival for November and enjoy a magical experience with us.