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Stemilt extends cherry season into late August with Amigos ranch

by | August 17, 2009
The peak volumes of the Northwest's record cherry crop may have passed, but cherry season at Stemilt Growers is far from over thanks to Kyle Mathison's high-elevation orchard operation called Amigos.

With a name that is Spanish for "friends," the Amigos ranch sits between 3,000 and 3,500 feet above sea level, not too far from the Mathison family's original homestead on Stemilt Hill. The high altitude combined with late- ripening cherry varieties extends Stemilt's cherry harvest into late August.

In the cherry world, any orchard planted above 1,800 feet is considered high elevation. Having already surpassed this height, Mr. Mathison, a fourth- generation cherry grower, began planting cherries at even higher elevations in 2002 in order to stretch the availability window of Stemilt cherries.

"My dream is to be able to provide consumers with world famous Stemilt cherries as long as possible," Mr. Mathison said in a press release. "Amigos not only extends the availability of cherries, but it sits on the best growing ground in the world. The mild climate stays cool during the hot summer while the rich soil fuels trees with the right nutrients to produce large, perfect-tasting cherries."

Growing cherries at such high elevations carries some risk, since Amigos sees much colder winters than lower elevations and is highly susceptible to winter kill, according to Mr. Mathison.

Once past the hurdle of winter and long after other cherry trees in the region blossom, the Amigos orchards awake from their dormant stage and gradually move into full bloom. Generally, cherries are picked one day later for every 100 feet gained in vertical elevation, Mr. Mathison said. That makes Amigos the latest cherry block to be harvested in Washington state.

Over the next few weeks, Mr. Mathison would be harvesting Skeena, Staccato and Sweetheart cherries from Amigos. All three are dark-sweet varieties that originated in British Columbia and thrive in an environment like Amigos.

"Fortunately, Washington is starting to cool down after the recent heat wave," Mr. Mathison said in the press release. "Although we welcome the cooler temperatures, these three beauties were selected because of their ability to withstand heat. The sugars are building up nicely in the fruits, and we expect another beautiful crop from Amigos this year."