Even if it’s a “pretty good” year for fruit in Colorado, after the last couple of fits and starts from late and early-season freezes, we’ll take it.
That’s how farmers in the North Fork and Grand Valley are describing their summer crops, which begin to ripen starting in mid-June with the first cherries, and finish with late-season pears and apples in the fall.
For those who are newer to Colorado, the local fruits you’ll most often hear about are Palisade (and Paonia) peaches and Rocky Ford melons. They’re worth biting into come July and August. But what you might be less familiar with are the many other fruits that can be found in the coming months on farm stands and at farmers markets across the state.
Local chefs and home cooks will tell you about their favorite Colorado sweet and tart cherries, the apricots and plums — plus pluots, apriums and more exciting crossbreeds — that they seek out from trusted growers.
“That’s kind of our specialty,” said Danijel Dukic, who runs all Front Range business for Western Slope farmer Peter Forte of Forte Fruits in Palisade. “We do have a lot of apricots and about 30 different kinds of plums.” he added. “The longer we go into the season, it gets better and better every week.”
In July, Colorado’s peaches start weighing heavy on their tree branches; depending on the variety, they’ll be harvested through late summer. And while you can find plenty of different varieties for pie-making or preserving and canning, Dukic recommends Forte’s flattened “donut” peaches, like the golden TangO, for their superior sweetness.
Not far from Palisade, in Paonia, seventh-generation farmer Glenn Austin of Austin Family Farms is getting ready to harvest all of the season’s fruits, starting with a handful of cherry varieties, 11 kinds of peaches, raspberries, blackberries, plums, apricots, nectarines and finally around 25 different apples, four of which he’s patented on-property.
“Apples are usually a fall crop, but we’re able to satisfy people’s tastes for fresh apples even in late August,” Austin said. “We named them Ginger Gold and Austin Gold; there were no other apples (ready) at that time, so it was like gold, because no one else had them.”
The rarity — or unpredictability — of Colorado fruit is certainly part of its appeal, even as growers seem to flood the market with their products at the peak of the summer season. Cherries, when they come, might appear for a couple of weeks only; apricots can easily freeze after blooming before winters let up.
In the fall of 2020, Western Slope growers saw long-term damage to their crops when a freeze hit suddenly in October, before the trees had a chance to harden against the cold. Most spring seasons, you’ll hear of farmers taking to their orchards with fans and heaters as they try to stave off the late frosts from slashing their summer yields.
“This year was looking really, really good,” said Nancy Scheinkman of Mountain Freshies, which distributes local produce from farms such as Austin’s to consumers throughout the region. “Then we had a bit of a spring freeze, and (the Austins) were out there for 72 hours straight keeping those orchards heated. You don’t see every farm going to that length to keep their crop growing.”
But going to that length is practically a prerequisite for growing in Colorado. Perhaps that’s why the fruit tastes that much sweeter when it arrives.
Fruits to find from Colorado farms and markets throughout summer
Cherries: mid-June to mid-July (where to try: Morton’s Organic Orchards)
Tomatoes: June to September (where to try: Red Wagon Farm)
Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries: June to September (where to try: Garden Sweet)
Peaches: July to August (where to try: Ela Family Farms and First Fruits)
Apricots, nectarines, plums: July to August (where to try: Forte Fruits)
Cantaloupe and watermelon: mid-July to mid-September (where to try: Proctor Produce)
Pears: August to September (where to try: Masonville Orchards)
Apples: starting late August and as late as December in the North Fork Valley or October on the Front Range (where to try: Austin Family Farms)
Where to buy locally
Forte Fruits will open its Front Range store by early July in Englewood in time for peach season: 4021 S. Federal Blvd.; 303-789-3845; fortefruits.com.
Mountain Freshies offers CSA shares for the summer and fall seasons with a delivery radius that includes the Roaring Fork Valley, the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, Ken Caryl and Colorado Springs (Denver is coming soon); 970-379-9280; mountainfreshies.com.
You’ll find other farms’ fruits at farmers’ stands and markets around the state. For an up-to-date list of Denver-area markets, check out tinyurl.com/383cnnnw. And you can always head to your local grocers, many of which carry Colorado Proud produce and fruits in-season.
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