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How to Harvest Cherries [6 Necessary Steps]

To harvest cherries, begin by noting which cherry trees have a large number of blossoms in spring. These trees will have the highest cherry yield from June through July. Wait for the cherries to turn red, then test for ripeness. Sour cherries are ripe when they come off the tree easily. Sweet cherries are ripe when they taste sweet. Harvest your cherries by hand to prevent harm to the fruit and the tree. Then, cool your cherries in the refrigerator to ensure freshness. Finally, you can turn sour cherries into jam or preserves, while sweet cherries can be frozen for use later.

How to harvest cherries

How to Pick Cherries in 6 Steps

Picking cherries will require watching your cherry orchard carefully around early summer. Once cherries grow in, they ripen quickly and need to be picked just as quickly. Below, we’ll cover cherry-picking tips and facts in greater depth:

Watch for Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms will appear in mid-spring, between late March and early April. Once these blooms come in, you’ll know you’ll have cherries ready for picking soon. If your tree doesn’t blossom, you likely won’t have cherries to pick this year. A lack of blossoms could even be a sign your tree is in distress.

Wait for Red Cherries

Once the cherries come in, you need to be highly attentive to the coloring of the fruit. Cherries will turn bright red suddenly in the final few days before harvesting. You’ll need to harvest the fruit fairly quickly after they turn red so keep an eye out for the color change.

Test Ripeness

Just because the color has changed, that doesn’t mean the fruit is ripe yet. Test the ripeness of sour varieties of cherry by gently tugging at the cherry. A ripe sour cherry will easily come off the stem. Sweet cherries don’t come off the stem easily though so you’ll need to taste for ripeness. If the cherry is a bit bitter, it’s underripe. If it’s fully sweet, then it’s ready for harvest.

Use a Cherry Bucket

A kidney-shaped picking bucket, sometimes called a cherry bucket, is perfect for harvesting this sweet fruit. It holds several pounds of fruit safely and the strap will comfortably keep the bucket from causing you back strain. Use this kidney-shaped picking bucket to harvest cherries while keeping your back safe.

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Cool Your Fresh-Picked Cherries

After picking, cherries should be chilled for at least 24-48 hours to seal in flavor. Cooler temperatures around 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7℃) are perfect for chilling cherries. Most refrigerators are kept just below this mark, so your refrigerator is a good choice for chilling freshly picked cherries.

Store Your Cherries Long-Term

Storing cherries for the long term is the most important final step of harvesting. Each type of cherry prefers different storage methods. Sweet varieties are best for refrigeration or freezing. Black cherries are generally preferred for freezing since they don’t discolor in freezing temperatures like bright red varieties. Sour cherry varieties are best for canning or cooking, but do not freeze as well. 

How Do You Know When to Pick Cherries?

You will know it’s almost time to pick your cherries when they turn their signature bright red color. Most types of cherries don’t turn this color until the last days before they are ready to be picked. This is because sugar production ramps up significantly in the final days of ripening. 

  • Wait for fresh cherries to turn bright red before harvesting.
  • Sour cherries will practically fall off the stem when they are ripe for picking.
  • Sweet varieties need to be tasted for ripeness.

What happens next depends on your type of cherry crop. Tart cherries will easily come off the stem when they are ripe. Sweet cherries, however, need to be tasted for ripeness because they don’t come off the stem easily. A taste test is the best way to make sure sweet cherries are ripe. If the cherries you test are sweet to the taste, then you can begin your cherry harvest

Do Cherries Have to Be Hand Picked?

Unfortunately, pretty much every variety of cherry needs to be picked by hand. Cherry fruit is fairly delicate and can easily be broken or smashed by mechanical harvesting. Cherry trees, especially sweet cherry trees, are delicate as well. Any damage done to a tree by a machine can impede the production of mature fruit for the next cherry season. 

  • Hand-picking is the best way to harvest cherries.
  • Cherries and cherry trees are delicate enough that they can be easily damaged by machine harvesting.
  • Consider how to get additional hands to help pick cherries.

It’s just not worth it to risk damage to your fruit and tree by using a mechanical picking method. Consider having friends or family over to help with cherry-picking to make a fun event out of it. Alternatively, you can try opening your cherry orchard to public picking for a small fee.

What’s the Best Time of Day to Pick Cherries?

Early morning is the best time of day for cherry-picking. This protects the cherries from later day heat. Oftentimes, harvested cherries will go straight into refrigeration after picking because cool temperatures keep cherries fresh. 

  • Pick cherries early in the morning while it is still cool out.
  • Generally, noon and later is considered too late for picking.
  • Once picked, cherries need to be chilled for the freshest flavor.

Most cherry farms aim to have their ripe cherries picked and cooling by noon. You too should have some way to get cherries chilling after they’ve been picked. Make sure to leave space in your refrigerator for your containers of fresh cherries.

How Do You Harvest a Cherry Tree?

Harvesting cherries is a straightforward process but there are still key things to keep in mind. Read through this short list of important tips to watch out for or keep in mind when picking cherries:

  • Cherries are typically harvested between June and July.
  • All cherries need to be harvested by hand in the morning.
  • Cherries turn bright red just before becoming fully ripe.
  • Sour cherries come off the stem easily when ripe.
  • Sweet cherries need to be tasted for ripeness.
  • Use a cherry bucket to collect cherries.
  • Chill cherries in your refrigerator after picking them to keep them fresh longer.
  • Sour cherries are best stored long-term through canning, jam-making, and cooking.
  • Sweet cherries are best preserved through freezing.

Remember that harvesting cherries can be arduous work when done alone. Consider bringing along friends and family to help out and make a fun time of it.

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