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Cherry Growers Savor Bumper Crop Green Bluff Orchards Primed For Start Of Cherry Festival

Weird weather and leaf-munching deer haven’t much harmed this season’s cherries at Green Bluff.

Having braved November’s ice storms and the cool, wet early summer, the orchardists north of Spokane are now rewarded with branches laden with fruit. On some trees the cherries hang like large clusters of fat grapes in bundles of 50 and 60.

“The cherry trees are so loaded, we had to prop them,” said Bonny Walker of Walker’s Busy Acres. “We’ve never had to prop them before. They’re hanging heavy.”

Three substantially loaded limbs have broken off the Walkers’ trees. Walker estimates that one limb held close to 100 pounds of cherries - now lost. Mel Walker, who has lived at the farm for more than 70 years, said he’s never seen a harvest this bountiful.

And thanks to the sudden burst of warm weather, Green Bluff orchardists are well-braced to boast this week.

“I believe the weather is bringing the cherries up real fast,” said Helen Laws of Dick Laws Fruit Farm.

It was touch-and-go for a while though. The cool of June and early July had some farmers biting their nails. Though not all types of cherries will be ripe for the season-opening celebration tonight, Green Bluff has enough of the Bing and Royal Annes to suffice.

In other years the cherries haven’t been ready in time for the Cherry Picker’s Trot, which kicks off Green Bluff’s two-week Cherry Festival. When that happened, some orchardists resorted to importing the fruit from other Washington orchards.

“We’ve really had trouble matching up the starting time of the festival with the arrival of the cherry season,” said Karen Hansen of Hansen’s Orchard. “You’re always dealing with Mother Nature on this.”

Last year, the orchardists moved the Trot ahead one week to the second Thursday in July in hopes of matching the dates of the festival with the harvest. They missed.

“We just didn’t have enough cherries,” Hansen admitted.

This year there are enough. The warm breeze blowing at Green Bluff is the orchardists’ collective sigh of relief. They’ve picked about 1,200 pounds of the round red fruit to sell at the kick-off tonight for which they expect more than 2,000 people.

The festivities include a cherry pit spit and a hamburger dinner. The proceeds go to the Green Bluff Growers Association, a cooperative marketing effort of the Green Bluff Orchardists to advertise the orchards and draw customers out of Spokane.

“We have to do this,” said Gordon Beck of Harvest House & Orchard, adding that without the marketing and special events like the festival few people would find the family farm community. “There’s nothing on the way to Green Bluff,” he said.

The Cherry Festival starts tonight with the Cherry Pit Spit at 5:30 p.m. The Cherry Picker’s Trot begins at 7 p.m.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Hannelore Sudermann Staff writer

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