Cherries, apricots, peaches all ripening 2-3 weeks early

Renee Herman places more ripe Bing and Rainier cherries at the Herman Orchards’ fruit stand in Palisade.

Cherries have arrived at Grand Valley fruit stands two to three weeks early this spring, a trend that growers expect to continue throughout the summer with everything from apricots to tomatoes to peaches. Though many are calling this crop a “freak year,” the early fruit may actually be part of a broader and ongoing trend.

At Herman Orchards’ stand just off Interstate 70 in Palisade, baskets of Bings and Rainiers are already awaiting drivers looking for a healthy snack.

“It’s going to be pretty crazy this year,” said Renee Herman, who said she is concerned people will show up at the stands in a couple weeks, when cherries normally arrive, and find nothing left.

Herman said they will be picking apricots next week, about three weeks ahead of when they typically would. Even the first peaches could be picked as soon as two weeks from now.

“I hope people aren’t too late this year,” she said. “A lot of them are going to miss it on both ends, both the cherries at the start of the season and the peaches at the end.”

But for now those concerns may not be panning out. Residents seem to be eating up the news of the early harvest — literally.

Across the valley, Miller Orchard on the Redlands began selling cherries a week ago, and they have flown off shelves so quickly some customers visiting last weekend found the stand sold out and had to place orders to pick up in the following days.

Back in Palisade, Watson Orchards, on the south side of the Colorado River, has already picked some apricots, though they would need to sit on a shelf for a couple days to fully ripen, said Donnie Bishop, who was helping out there Thursday morning.

He said the orchard will have cherries for about three more weeks, but that a couple orchards around Palisade are already about to pick their last cherries.

Bishop said it was the earliest crop he has seen since the mid-1990s. Herman, too, said she thought this was the earliest crop in roughly 20 years.

Even in Paonia, fruit is expected to come earlier. Delicious Orchards, along Colorado Highway 133 just below town, is still selling Grand Valley cherries for now, but they expect to start picking their own cherries as soon as Wednesday.

The early spring is not all good news for growers, though. Early springs combined with late frosts to destroy the cherry crops around Paonia in each of the last three years. And a surprising frost over Memorial Day weekend — after a balmy April and May — killed the cherry blossoms on some North Fork Valley orchards this year as well.

Observations and models suggest these events might be getting more common as springs continue to get progressively earlier.

Most crops ran late last year, and that combined with the fact that it has been so long since cherries arrived as early as they are now make this year appear to be a “freak year,” Herman said.

But globally, spring has been gradually getting earlier — by about two to five days, according to most studies.

A study in the journal Nature earlier this year found that previous experiments had underestimated how warming temperatures are affecting the timing of plants’ leafing-out and flowering by four-fold and 8.5-fold, respectively.

In some cases, that earlier flowering can leave crops vulnerable to late frosts, which damage plants that were planted early or flowers that budded early in response to warmer temperatures.

Michigan expects to lose half of its cherry harvest after 80-degree temperatures in March tricked trees into blossoming before the last frosts had hit. Pennsylvania and other cherry-producing states in the Great Lakes region have found themselves in the same boat.

Herman said a few cherry blossoms were killed by late frost around Palisade this spring, but in general it appears fruit in the Grand Valley has escaped this year.


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