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Tart cherry season begins in Northern Illinois

Tart Cherries hanging from branch

While it may seem early, tart cherries are almost ready in backyard and commercial orchards in Northern Illinois. The tart cherry harvest season will begin in the next two weeks, towards the middle and end of June, maybe even sooner.

“June remains an active month for specialty crops. At farms in Jo Daviess and Stephenson counties, we wrap-up rhubarb and asparagus, start strawberry season, and then follow that up with tart cherries,” states Grant McCarty, Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension. “We don’t see as many tart cherry u-pick orchards, but you may find them at your local farmers market or certainly in the backyard.”

Like their name denotes, these cherries have a sour quality to them that makes them ideal for baking, cooking, and using in recipes that are combined with sugar. They tend to be very juicy with a good amount of acid in them. These cherries, also called sour, are in the stone fruit family which includes peach, apricot, plum, and others. “Commonly, tart cherries are the only consistent member of this family for growers in Northern Illinois as they can withstand the cold climate each year and you just need one tree for a yearly crop. Sweet cherries can be more difficult to grow in our region as most varieties require more than one variety for cross-pollination.” McCarty continues.

A ripe cherry is ready to be picked if it has the right color, firmness, and comes off the stem easily. Cherries do not ripen further after they have been picked. “You may find that you may want to keep these cherries on the tree a bit longer in order to develop; but if you wait too long, birds may get to them before you can”

For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension webpage at

Grant McCarty is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator at University of Illinois Extension in Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Winnebago counties. He works with commercial specialty growers that directly market tree fruits, small fruits, and vegetables.

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.