So tricky to grow, such a delectable summer treat: Washington cherry growers take another spin in the cherry casino, as they bring in the state's most high-risk crop. Denny Hayden is packing heat: And if all that fails, I have whiskey. Some Washington cherry growers may not go quite as far — or at least not admit it. But they tend to be a superstitious lot. Hayden still remembers such a storm from two years ago: It was hard, just buckets, then pretty soon came "What each zodiac sign worries about most" hail.
The ground was just white. And it was so specific; it did not hit my neighbors.
Pretty soon, you feel like, good Lord, what did I do? Then there are the droves of fruit-pecking birds, the threat of killing frost in early spring, and the dirty word no one should say in any orchard heavy with nearly ripe fruit: All it takes is a summer shower to swell the fruit, already fat with juice, until its skin splits.
So much for the lucrative fresh market; that cherry is now a cull, as that lower class of fruit is known in the processing trade. Cherries demand growers like him, with a passion for perfection, world-class control freaks always on task. Growers in the early-harvest districts have already wound up their picking, while statewide the harvest was hitting its peak over the weekend.
The weather has been troublesome, with rain showers and unseasonably cool temperatures in some parts of the state vexing growers.
Hayden faced three rain showers this harvest season, including one that started at 3 a. He called in the tractor sprayers to blow calcium on the trees to slow the uptake of water into the fruit by osmosis.
They also blasted the trees with air to move their branches, spilling rainwater out of the tiny dip in the top of the cherry where the stem joins the fruit — a place vulnerable to cracking. Then, at first light, he called in the air force: All because of just three-tenths of an inch of rain that fell over eight hours.
Just as critical are the workers. In the frenzy of the cherry they will climb foot ladders up and down all day, visiting and revisiting the trees a minimum of three to five times to pick each cherry as it comes to maximum size and ripeness. As the harvest got under way on a recent weekday morning, Ubaldo Garcia looked over the fruit-laden branches and quickly selected only the reddest, biggest cherries.
A regular in this orchard every season, his reason was simple. Even so, on a recent weekday, Hayden was short 75 to 80 workers, despite being early in the market and offering work on a big ranch with productive trees with lots of fruit.
Altogether, Hayden, 61, and his brother Randy, 59, grow acres of apples and acres of cherries. Most days during harvest, Hayden is up by 3: Another day and another chance at hitting it big in a season when it just might all come together: So far, all cherries, no lemons at all.
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