Just as the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road heralds the beginning of summer, cherry picking along the shores of Flathead Lake signals its halfway point.
This week, the annual Flathead cherry harvest is getting into full swing and pickers are expecting to harvest a crop on par with last year’s 1.7 million pounds, according to Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association board member Ken Edgington, who also owns the Bear Dance Orchard near Yellow Bay.
Growers began harvesting Flathead cherries along the southern shores of the lake late last week because those ripen first. The pick slowly moves up the lake toward Bigfork, and Edgington expects cherries to be picked into the middle of August as long as the weather cooperates. Rain can be especially detrimental to a cherry, but so far the growers have been fortunate.
“We’ve dodged a lot of bullets this year,” he said.
On the few occasions that there has been a heavy rain, helicopters have been quickly dispatched to the orchards to blow the water off the fruit. If water sits on the cherry too long it can split the fruit or discolor it. Edginton said that while the fruit would still taste good, it does not look good and so its market value decreases.
The perfect weather for cherries is warm days, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, and cool nights, with temperatures down to the 40s.
Edgington said the growers association cooperative, which includes about 80 growers on the lake, expects a crop between 1.7 million and 2 million pounds this year, which is about the same as last year, but is a little lower than previous years that have offered upwards of 3 million pounds of cherries. One of the reasons for the decrease is that many growers are replacing older cherry trees and it takes four to six years for a tree to mature and produce a full crop.
The Flathead cherries often ripen after the crops in California, Oregon and Washington. Because of that they are often desirable for big supermarket chains because they are some of the last cherries of the season. However, there are numerous roadside stands along the lake where you can buy your crop of local cherries.
For more information, visit www.montanacherries.com.
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