Change is a constant on any farm, but even more common on a farm that each year grows 18 different crops for sale to the public. A field of aging apple trees one year is replaced by newer fruit trees offering a different variety.
Crops are rotated — a field that held blueberry bushes, for example — to a place better suited for them on another part of the farm. A row of peach trees planted decades ago is fortified with posts and wire of the sort used in vineyards, to keep the wind from blowing them over.
And so this month, on the historic Wickham farm in Cutchogue, in a field running along the lane behind the Main Road farm stand, are rows of newly planted is semi-dwarf cherry trees.
While cherries have long been grown on the farm for sale at the stand, these trees are smaller, their branches stretched out on wires, and the entire field is covered with a tarp to keep the rain out.
By the end of June, crowds that come to the farm to pick their own will be able to hand-pick cherries from these trees. The season is short: It will be over before the end of July.
“Each year a farm has to somewhat reimagine itself,” said Tom Wickham, as he drove a visitor around the farm in his pickup. “With these new trees, they allow people to reach the tops of the trees and pick cherries for themselves. The cherries are more accessible now.”
A regular cherry tree can grow very large, with trunks as big as those of oak trees. As they grow, the trees grow too tall and the fruit becomes too difficult to harvest — for either farmworkers or U-pick visitors.
“Now, we have trees that stay relatively small and produce a very good crop of cherries,” Mr. Wickham said.
Cherries are notoriously difficult in challenging weather, with perhaps one year out of every three being a good one for healthy fruit. “With the cover we have over these trees,” Mr. Wickham explained, “we increase the probabilities for having more than one year out of three.”
As the farm’s workers installed a plastic cover over an aluminum frame that encloses the new trees, Mr. Wickham pointed out that wires stretched down the rows allow the side branches of the trees to be extended parallel to the ground, with one central stalk going straight up.
The upright stalks, he pointed out as he walked down one of the rows, are now heavy with fruit. “This is just like a vineyard that grows grapes for wine; it’s the same system of how to grow the cherries,” he said.
The semi-dwarf cherries came from nurseries in California and upstate New York. “Starting some 15 or so years ago, plant people in Germany came up with this new variety,” Mr. Wickham said.
“You need to keep looking for something new,” he said. “If you want to continue, there has to be change and regeneration.”