Growing organic cherries has been a staple of our farm since the beginning. Our orchard is home to full-sized cherry trees anywhere from 25 to 40+ years old, and they’re still producing delectable fruits.
Aside from simply being delicious, cherries are a rewarding fruit to grow. Unlike peaches, which also thrive in our high desert climate, cherry trees don’t take a lot of input. And like we said, cherry trees grow old and keep on producing.
There are both pros and cons, though. Cherry trees are sensitive to late frosts and gusts of wind, so we must expect an irregular harvest pattern. Some years, tree limbs are nearly breaking off, bursting with big, juicy cherries that pull the branches to the ground; other years, we are grateful for a few dozen boxes full.
Harvesting cherries at our farm
Cherry harvest is a labor of love. That is, it’s a lot of work.
During cherry season, we spend each sunset strolling through the rows, marking each tree with a ribbon for sweetness. The next morning, our crew of 10-12 people starts at sunrise for harvest. With just a few hours before the heat softens the stone fruit to the point where we have to stop harvesting, our crew members climb ladders with buckets strapped to their shoulders and pick cherries one by one.
Cherry picking is a meticulous process. Fruit by fruit, we snap off the stem from exactly where it connects to the branch. Because we rely on the wood of the tree for the next year’s harvest, we must be careful not to break the wood.
For the rest of the day, we sort through the picked cherries by hand, separating firsts from seconds from the ones destined for the compost pile.
How to harvest your cherries
Whether you have a cherry tree in your yard or you’re heading to our farm for U-Pick, learning how to harvest cherries makes the process go faster and preserves the health of your trees.
1. Knowing when to harvest
When cherries are ready, they’ll be firm and fully colored. The color depends on the variety of cherry. Bings, for example, will turn a deep shade of red when they’re mature. Sour cherries fall off the stem when they’re ripe enough to be harvested. Sweet cherries on the other hand should be tasted for maturity.
Unlike other stone fruits, cherries will not continue to ripen once they’re removed from the tree! So choosing the right time to harvest is key to eating delicious cherries that taste the way they’re meant to.
2. How to pick cherries
If you’re not planning on eating the cherries right away, harvest cherries with the stems attached. The most important piece is to be careful not to tear the woody fruit spur off of the tree. That tiny part of the tree is what continues to produce fruit each year.
If you’re picking cherries for cooking or canning, it’s often easier to pull off the cherries and leave the stem attached to the tree.
3. Storing cherries
After harvest, you can dunk your cherries in cold water. This rinses them off and hydrocools them so that they stay fresher, longer. Keep your cherries at cool temperatures (32-35 degrees F) for 10 days in a plastic bag with holes in it, or one that’s slightly opened so that there’s a bit of air flow.
Pick your own organic cherries for fresh-eating, canning, drying and pies.
A few things to know before picking
Prepare for your visit:
- Come early to beat the heat, fruit is better when picked early.
- Wear comfortable shoes, you will experience uneven terrain.
- Bring your own boxes or containers, or we will offer boxes if needed at a small charge.
Once you arrive, remember:
- We prefer you pick without the stems – it is easier picking too.
- We don’t mind a few nibbles, but please enjoy the cherries AFTER checkout.
- Take care of our trees, be careful of branches, no climbing trees
Our favorite sweet cherry recipes
What do you love to make with cherries?