Despite the calendar turning to August, cherry season is far from over thanks to Stemilt Growers LLC’s Kyle Mathison’s unique, high-elevation orchard operation called Amigos.
Named after the Spanish word 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 near Wenatchee, WA. These towering altitudes combine with late-ripening cherry varieties to extend Stemilt’s cherry harvest into September.
In the cherry world, any orchard planted above 1,800 feet is considered high elevation. Having already surpassed this height, Kyle 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 an Aug. 1 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.”
Though it seems like Amigos would be a farmer’s dream come true, growing cherries at such high elevations is a risky business. According to Mr. Mathison, Amigos sees much colder winters than lower elevations and is highly susceptible to winter kill.
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, according to Mr. Mathison. That makes Amigos one of the later cherry blocks to be harvested in Washington state.
Mr. Mathison will begin harvesting Skeena, Staccato and Sweetheart cherries from Amigos around Aug. 15. All three are dark-sweet varieties that originated in British Columbia and thrive in an environment like that of Amigos.
“It’s been a very mild summer in eastern Washington, which bodes well for these high-elevation cherries,” Mr. Mathison said in the release. “The sugars are building up nicely in the fruits, and we expect another great crop of ‘World Famous Cherries’ from Amigos this year.”