Flathead cherry harvest weeks away

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  • Many of the cherries along Flathead Lake have turned red, but need more sun and hot weather before becoming fully ripe. (Marla Hall photos/Lake County Leader))

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    Marilyn and Jerry Bowman sort through Rainier cherries.

  • Many of the cherries along Flathead Lake have turned red, but need more sun and hot weather before becoming fully ripe. (Marla Hall photos/Lake County Leader))

  • 1

    Marilyn and Jerry Bowman sort through Rainier cherries.

Flathead cherry stands soon will be dotting the roadways along Flathead Lake. Early varieties such as the Vann are already being picked, while the main crop of cherries is still a couple of weeks away from harvest.

Bruce Johnson, president of the 70-member Flathead Lake Cherry Growers cooperative, said he expects this year’s haul to top the 2016 harvest, which suffered from damaging rains.

“Last year, the co-op harvested about 2 million pounds. This year, it’s going to be more than that — at least we have more than that on the tree,” Johnson said. “This year we haven’t had any rain events, so there’s not a whole of damage on the cherries.”

Currently, he said, the cherries are in the process of “sizing up.” After roughly two months on the tree, in these last few weeks they begin to grow in size and sweeten.

Fellow grower Gary Johnson (no relation) of The Orchard at Flathead Lake said he uses a special device called a refractometer to measure the cherry’s sugar content, or brix, to help him determine when the crop is ready for picking. He said many growers pick when that number hits 17, while he waits until 20 for a sweeter fruit.

At this time last year, Gary Johnson said the harvest already was underway and noted that the recent heat wave will help to ripen the crop.

“I would call it a more normal year. We were very early last year,” he said. “I have more in my orchard this year than last year for sure, but I wouldn’t call mine a bumper crop, either.”

On average, he said cherries are ready for picking in the third or fourth week of July, while some varieties may be available into August.

“Mother nature has the final say,” he added.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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