POLSON — It’s that special time of year on Flathead Lake with cherry season officially up and running.
For the next three weeks, Flathead cherry growers will be busy picking and selling their product with some cherries being sold locally while others take a trip around the world.
“Interesting to think that some cherries picked in Montana today could be halfway round the world in just two or three days from now,” Monson Fruit Company Field Representative Brian Campbell tells MTN News.
Campbell said the cherry grower cooperative manages 80 Flathead orchards, roughly 500 acres of cherries.
Campbell said freezes in both October and February coupled with extreme heat in June has resulted in the size of this year’s cherries being a little smaller than normal.
“Definitely a correlation between the hot June with 90 plus, almost 100-degree temperatures and very dry conditions that really stresses out the tree, and a stressed-out tree cannot produce big fruit,” said Campbell.
Campbell said the market for small fruit is bad this year due to small fruit already being picked in California, Oregon, and Washington.
“The buyer is conditioned to believe that the bigger the better, but the small fruit tastes just as good as the large fruit. It’s every bit as good. I mean, you might have to put two cherries in your mouth at a time instead of one I guess, but it’s too bad there’s not a better market for it,” said Campbell.
Despite smaller than average fruit, Laura Hogan, co-owner of Big Bear Orchards in Woods Bay, said her cherry crop was significantly bigger than last year.
“It looks like we have more this year than we’ve had in the past years. They're a little smaller but I think we’re doing alright comparatively to the heat wave that we’ve been experiencing, and Washington was able to pull through so now we will bring up the remainder of the year,” said Hogan.
Big Bear Orchards along with TT & J Orchards in Woods Bay are two of a dozen or so orchards selling fruit in stands right off Highway 35.
TT & J Orchards Co-Owner Connie Scott said people from all over the country are stopping by.
“People heading home to Texas, Wisconsin—I’ve had some people from Chicago that have stopped in and got cherries. They were excited; they’ve never been this close to a cherry tree before, they see the cherries alongside the road, and they just want to stop and go and pick 'em,” said Scott.
Campbell said one silver lining is that cherry varieties are picked at different times. He said the Sweetheart cherry crop looks strong and will be picked in a couple of weeks.
“Our sweetheart crop looks really good this year and the sweethearts are the ones that are the later variety, and we won’t be picking those until later August,” said Campbell.
Scott said her orchard plans on selling cherries off Highway 35 for the next month, offering a different variety as the season moves along.
“They’ll be different color, different taste; the taste tests are always free, so stop on by and see what we have,” said Scott.