We’re almost completely done pruning in our plum orchards, and we are busy pruning in our peach and nectarine orchards. Pruning is an important process of the annual stone fruit cycle as we prepare the trees for winter. By removing the older wood from the trees, we not only make way for new fruiting wood for the 2022 harvest season, but we also keep the trees shaped properly.
In our high density stone fruit orchards, crews are using electric pruning shears in order to reach the upper parts of trees without ladders. These electric shears improve efficiency while still allowing our employees to make precise cuts. Eliminating the use of ladders for pruning makes the process safer and reduces the physical burden on our employees.
In the beginning of this month we continued to prepare for new planting in our orchards. Once the old trees are pushed out, they go into an industrial wood chipper. The ground wood is then incorporated back into the soil on our farms. Through this process, we are doing our part to capture carbon in the atmosphere and fix it in the soil. Chipping the wood also eliminates the need to burn old trees, which can have a negative impact on the air quality in the Central Valley. The next step will be to go in and break up the compacted soil (a process we call ripping) and level out the ground.
We are slowly coming to end of table grape harvest with less than 10% of our grapes left to harvest. We are clipping and cleaning bunches during packing more than we had expected in order to remove sunburned berries from the summer heat waves and grapes impacted by October rain. The finished quality of grapes in the box still looks excellent, but additional effort is required to get it that way. Our final production numbers are expected to be a bit less than our pre-harvest estimates as we slowly wrap up.
At the end of this month we found ourselves almost fully prepped to plant new trees in our stone fruit orchards. The next steps toward planting are marking the planting rows and installing the underground irrigation system. After those final tasks are complete, we just need to wait for the nursery to deliver our trees, and we can begin planting in January.
We are pushing out trees and prepping blocks for new planting in some of our orchards. Once the trees are removed and the compacted ground is broken up and prepped, we will be ready to plant new trees in about three to four months. The varieties we’ve chosen for new planting are the result of a good amount of research and planning, and we are confident that they will make a great addition to our stone fruit lineup.
Late season table grape harvest is thriving with the current weather conditions on our farms. The cool overnight low temperatures are ideal for berry color and maturation, as well as pleasant harvest weather for our employees, helping move us toward the end of the harvest season. The quality, timing, and flavor of grapes coming out of our vineyards are all holding strong.
Students from Reedley College recently visited our farms as part of a two semester course titled Fundamentals of Fresh Fruit. This class was privately funded by HMC Farms and other local stone fruit growers, and we’ve taken the lead on the course design. This semester, the focus is exposing students to all areas of our industry. Drew and other members of our farm management team gave students an introductory crash course on trees and vines. We covered everything from prepping fields to selecting varieties, and the concept behind our high density orchards. The goal of this course is to educate local students on everything ag has to offer in order to help attract and cultivate future generations of ag professionals in the Central Valley.
Last week, a group of HMC Farms employees volunteered at the Central California Food Bank. It was our first in-person group service event since the pandemic paused our extracurricular activities. We got to work on the food bank’s pack line, testing our quality control and packing skills on a new commodity; our team packed over 2,600 lbs of peppers! We greatly appreciate the work that food banks do to ensure people don’t go hungry, and are always thankful for any opportunity we have to support their efforts beyond our regular fruit and monetary donations.
The United Nations declared 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in order to raise awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security, and health. One of the key messages in this campaign is the value of family farms in communities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, family farms generate income, improve food security and nutrition, and enhance resiliency through sustainably managed local resources. We couldn’t agree more!
We normally compare table grape harvest timing to the previous year, but last year’s heavy wildfire smoke blanket pushed back grape maturation significantly. We’ve had approximately 20% more solar radiation over the past month than the same time period last year. During the last few weeks of September we experienced heavier smoke in the Central Valley, largely due to the fires in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We expect that the smoke will clear out in the near future, but even if it lingers for a bit we already have much more momentum in color and berry maturity than we did at this time last year.
We are wrapping up the stone fruit season after a long, hot, and challenging summer. Weather conditions impacted our yield, but this turned out to be one of the best tasting crops in recent memory. It may seem like we’ve got a long break ahead of us, but farming truly is year-round, even for seasonal crops. We’ve already begun pruning trees to prepare for dormancy over the winter, and we are prepping blocks for winter planting.
While we are in the final third of the season on peaches and nectarines, we are just rounding second base on the plum season. We are looking forward to some of the highest sugar varieties of the year, including Black Majesty, Red Yummy, and of course our exclusive HMC Holiday plum. Holiday red plums will begin harvest in early September, and will pack and ship into October.
Burro self-driving carts are currently running in our table grape vineyards. After experimenting with Burros for the past couple of years, this is our first time using them for a full harvest season. Burros reduce physical stress on our hard working employees, and make the harvest process up to 40% more efficient by allowing our crews to focus on harvesting instead of pushing carts up and down the vineyard rows. Click to watch a Burro working in a vineyard right outside our office!
Grape harvest is underway in our vineyards in California’s San Joaquin Valley just in time for the kickoff of the 2021-2022 school year. HMC Farms has value-added solutions that make it possible to provide students with the fresh grapes they love. Kids choose grapes more often than other fresh fruit items, which means less plate waste and a higher take rate when grapes are on the menu. Value-added grape packs from HMC Farms make yield and portion control easy, offer significant labor savings, and are a perfect fit for virtually any serving application.
Color development is coming along well in our table grape vineyards. We are going full bore harvesting the mid season red and green seedless varieties. We’ve experienced moderate temperatures on our farms lately, which is perfect for grape development and harvest.
All of our table grape varieties are in some point of veraison now, which is the stage when red grapes gain color and green grapes shift from grassy green to a creamy green color while the berries begin to soften and ripen. The crop looks good, and we are on the cusp of kicking off harvest season with Flame red seedless grapes. This month we have been keeping an eye on the overnight lows – hot days and cool nights assist the ripening process, but with overnight lows in the mid 70s, the vines sometimes lag behind in ripening.
In the month of July, we dealt with near record heat spikes and prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures. We’re taking precautions to keep our employees safe, teaching them about heat stress and proper hydration. The heat has limited the hours we can safely operate outside, increasing the importance of proper harvest planning. Growers and shippers that haven’t finished thinning are delayed, with further impacts yet to be known. We haven’t seen excessive heat damage, but there are issues our quality team is watching, such as staining, which may be caused in some part by high heat. We expect minimal damage to our grapes, as many of our grapes have gone through veraison, making them less vulnerable to heat damage. We now have a fuller protective vineyard canopy cover than we did a few weeks ago, when some exposed grapes were burned.
The stone fruit season is about 60% of the way through from a temporal perspective, though just about half of the industry’s volume for the season has now been harvested. There have been many challenges this season, including worker and material shortages and some very hot weather. Luckily though, none of this has translated into poor quality of product in the finished box. It’s been a near-vintage season for quality and flavor, with good visual characteristics. Other than some issues with smaller fruit in the beginning of the season, the finished product has left little to be desired.
You’ve heard us talk about thinning before, but there’s truth to that old saying: a picture’s worth a thousand words. This is why we thin our stone fruit. Fruit that is not thinned (pictured on the right) remains small and doesn’t reach its peak size and flavor potential. Crowded clusters of fruit dilute the nutrients received from the tree, and also block adequate sunlight and air flow. Thinning results in fruit with better size and flavor (pictured on the left), and also protects the tree from damage like broken limbs due to too much weight hanging in one spot.
HMC Farms was the recipient of the 2021 Agriculture Business of the Year award from the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce. Notable reasons for the selection include: a strong relationship with the food bank, support of the local senior center, adjusting to fit school nutrition needs during the pandemic, and providing vaccination clinics to agricultural workers. It means a lot that we were selected with so many different ag businesses to choose from in our area.
We are in the midst of the most labor-intensive part of table grape farming: pre-harvest hand labor. This work consists of leafing, hanging and dropping bunches, thinning, and tipping. All of these jobs are done by hand in our vineyards to facilitate the growth and development of great quality HMC Farms table grapes. Our Farm Friday video goes in depth on this topic, explaining what each job entails and why it’s important. Watch it here on our YouTube channelif you missed it, and follow us on Instagram to see the weekly Farm Friday series in our stories.
In the middle of June we experienced a week-long heat wave, peaking at 112°F one day. Our first priority in extreme temperatures like these is the health and safety of our employees. We are working shorter days, wrapping up harvest by noon or earlier, and observing special procedures to ensure that employees get plenty of water, shade, and rest to avoid any heat-related health issues.
We are constantly on the lookout for ways to make our processes more efficient using ag technology. One of the tools we use every day is Pago, an integrative platform HMC Farms invested in and helped develop. Pago is a platform which allows us to schedule crews, calculate pay, maintain compliance with current ag labor laws, and monitor activity in real time. Gone are the days when handwritten time sheets needed to be brought in from the field to track activity and calculate pay. With a scan of the Pago card using a mobile app, each member of the crew is able to clock in and out, and data accumulates into cloud storage for our office staff.
We’re a third of the way through stone fruit season. This year has had more than its share of challenges: drought, extreme heat, and labor shortages have all taken their toll on an already difficult commodity. We are adjusting to deal with the issues at hand, like we always do. On the bright side, the fruit is as good as any we have produced. Sugar, size, and the condition of the product are all excellent; but we’ve got a long summer ahead. Grapes will begin harvest in a couple of weeks. At this point, the crop looks excellent and has come through the heat waves with only minimal sunburn.
The stone fruit season is now upon us! At the beginning of the month, we saw considerable volume available with fruit exhibiting mid-season flavor. This year the fruit size is better than last year, and the drought has created weather that is perfect for high sugar development. We have a full stone fruitcrop, and it already looks like this could be be a vintage year for great tasting fruit.
Rootstock is a term we use when covering the grafting process. Rootstock is the portion of the tree or vine that establishes the root system underground, hence the name. Because of the makeup of our soil, we often use rootstock combined with scion wood (the upper part of the tree or vine which determines the fruit variety). We carefully select our rootstock based on characteristics such as drought resistance or increased vigor to pair with both the scion wood and the soil type. Because we grow permanent crops, the rootstock we choose is incredibly important. We basically have one chance to get it right, so we carefully research the pairings before planting and grafting. Learn more through this video on our YouTube channel.
Harvest is now underway for yellow and white nectarines. When compared to last year, nectarines were delayed 3-7 days, and peaches were delayed 1-4 days for early season varieties. Peach sizing is on par, but nectarines are a size to a size and a half smaller than last year’s crop thus far. All of the fruit is exhibiting great flavor and quality. Towards the middle to end of May, we started full volume peach and nectarine harvest.
We recently installed a new grading machine at our packing facility in Traver. Last year, we installed the same machine at our plum facility and saw great results, so we’ve added another machine for peaches and nectarines. It performs vision-based defect sorting and removes any fruit not meeting our programmed visual specifications. After going through defect sorting, the fruit is checked by graders before going to packers, so that the packers no longer need to re-grade the fruit. This helps us ensure that only the very best fruit is packed into HMC boxes, and helps deal with the ongoing labor shortage we’ve experienced in more recent years.
We love homemade ice cream! We actually love it so much that we occasionally make it at the HMC Farms office. Something about homemade vanilla ice cream on a hot day just makes everything better, but we like to elevate our ice cream just a bit with the topping we can’t live without: caramelized peaches.
This recipe is enough for about 14-16 bowls of ice cream.
What you’ll need:
8 large HMC Farms peaches
1 stick of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Start by slicing or chopping your HMC Farms peaches, discarding the pits. Place the peaches in a bowl and mix in the fresh lemon juice, sea salt, and cinnamon.
Melt the butter and brown sugar in a skillet on medium heat. Once the butter has melted and combined with the sugar, add the peaches and increase to medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
When the juice from the peaches, butter, and sugar have reduced into a thicker consistency, remove the pan from heat and let it stand a little before serving.
Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to split this into 2 different batches, the peaches should not be more than 2 pieces deep when putting them in the pan to cook.
Warm peaches are delicious, but if they are too hot they will melt the ice cream rapidly. Let the peaches stand a bit to cool before using them as topping for your ice cream.
Peaches straight from the pan are hot! When taste testing, let the peaches cool slightly to avoid burning your mouth.
If ice cream isn’t your thing, caramelized peaches can also be added to yogurt.
Hot summer days call for frozen treats. HMC Farms peaches are in the peak of harvest in California’s Central Valley, so we try to include them in everything possible from baked goods to smoothies. One of our new favorite ways to use peaches is in peach smoothie pops, made with simple ingredients. These can be made using popsicle molds or popsicle bags.
What you’ll need for 8 pops:
4 medium HMC Farms peaches
2/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
3 steps to homemade peach smoothie pops:
Start by peeling the peaches and removing the pit.
Tip: Many of our HMC Farms peaches are clingstone varieties. We’ve found that the easiest way to create pretty slices of fruit is to place the fruit on a cutting board with the stem side down and slice straight down on each side around the pit.
Add peaches, yogurt, and a drizzle of honey to a blender, and puree until smooth.
Scoop pureed mix into popsicle molds or bags and put in the freezer for at least 4 hours, until frozen solid.