Originally published in April 2015; updated March 2023
Spring time at Stemilt Hill is a time of new beginnings. A time of clipping old branches back in preparation for the new fruitlets helping them to grow, big, beautiful, and delicious! In each month of Spring, something different is happening to position our teams and orchards to have a successful harvest in the summer and fall. Read on to learn how Stemilt prepares for each harvest season of apples, pears, and cherries!
Pruning takes place from January-February when temperatures aren’t too cold. When we prune, we’re clipping back branches that might block sun to the tree or extra branches that could overbear the tree with fruit. Wintertime is the best time to do this because the trees are dormant in their resting state. But once March rolls around, the trees will start waking up as temperatures rise!
After pruning is complete, we collect the branch clippings, dried leaves, and green waste to add to our World Famous Compost. We apply a nutrient-rich mix of earth’s natural ingredients to our trees in the fall to help develop fruit with exploding flavors! As Kyle would put it, it’s like a rich, amino acid soup!
During harvest, we use plastic bins to collect the fruit and bring it back to our facilities. Springtime is the best time to hose all these bins down so they’re clean and ready by the time cherries are ready for picking in late May and into June.
At Stemilt, a new orchard planting starts in the winter season but we won’t plant a single apple tree until the weather warms up. It’s important to plant apple trees after the frost season and – most importantly – when water is available to hydrate it. When we know that water is available in the irrigation system to hydrate trees, we plant the new apple trees in the ground.
Most cherry varieties need to be pollinated by bees during bloom time in order to grow into delicious fruits. Growers rent beehives and deploy bees for several days during bloom in order to ensure a good crop is set. Without bees, we wouldn’t have sweet cherries! Once pollinated, the blossom, or flower, dries up and a small green fruit comes out of its center, in a process called “splitting the shuck”. Leaves replace the dried up blossoms and each cherry begins an important stage of growth, where it will grow in size and change in color (green-yellow to pink and finally red) before it is ripe and ready to be harvested.
Spring Time at Stemilt Hill in 2023: What’s Happening Now?
March – California cherries have just begun to bloom. Most farmers (including us) grow multiple varieties that ripen at different times in order to make for a more manageable harvest, since we hand-pick every cherry from each tree!
April – Washington cherries start blooming. The first cherry trees in Washington State bloom in the Tri Cities and Mattawa areas. The combination of southern latitudes and early ripening varieties makes the trees in these locales first.
May – Washington cherries are approaching harvest & apple trees are blooming kicking off the start of Apple Blossom in Wenatchee, WA!