It’s amazing the difference a year can make in the world of farming. Right now, cherry blossom is happening in Washington State. Some orchards are past the full bloom stage and green cherries are already growing on trees, while flowers on other trees are just beginning to open up. Last year, the cherry blossom was long gone by this point (except for in our high-altitude orchards) and we were gearing up for a record early start to cherry harvest. This year, it’s a complete reversal. A late arrival of spring temperatures meant trees awoke from dormancy later than normal, and as a result, cherry blossom is happening later than usual.
It’s no secret climate and weather play a big role in the farming life. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find a cherry grower studying weather predictions from the moment a tree in the orchard blooms, until the last fruits are harvested. And we certainly talk about the weather often! This year, farmers were well aware of a La Niña weather pattern arriving in the Pacific Ocean. These climate patterns bring unusually cold ocean temperatures, compared to its counterpart, El Niño, which brings warmer ocean temperatures. In Washington State, the result of La Niña was a colder winter season with above average snowfall in the Cascade Mountains, a later spring and – you guessed it – a later start to cherry harvest.
We’re often asked by cherry fans when the first fruits will arrive in their stores, and the reality is every year brings a different answer. While we can’t count on a set date to begin cherry harvest in Washington State each year, we can count on it happening and when it does, it is the most beautiful sight! Sweet cherry blossoms are white and delicate and first appear in the southern growing regions of our state as those are closer to the equator. They move north and timing of bloom varies based on the location of the orchard, its altitude, and of course, the actual cherry variety the farmer is growing.
As flowers open, honeybees become temporary residents of the orchard because cherries need bees in order to pollinate. They make their way from flower to flower, transferring pollen from pollenizer trees nearby, to the flowers on the tree that will eventually be harvested. You can read more about the importance of bees in orchards in this blog post.
With cherry blossom happening, we now know the realities of when we will harvest cherries in Washington State this year, and the good news is we are only running a few days behind normal (which could easily be advanced with a warm weather spell). Expect beautiful Stemilt cherries to start arriving in your grocery stores from our California orchards in early May, with the first Washington cherries in mid-June. We can’t wait for you to experience the flavors of our cherries all summer long!