The wait is over. Harvest has begun for tree fruit in peaches, white peaches, nectarines, white nectarines, and organic peaches this month. The fruit looks good and is brixing well with great color and flavor for the first of the season. This will only continue to improve with time. With temperatures in the 90’s, the fruit will continue to mature in a timely fashion. Peak season fruit in both flavor and volume is right around the corner. By the week of June 5th, we will have promotable volumes available on all commodities except plums and plumcots. We are also training the juvenile trees and will complete trellis installation soon.
Shoot thinning in the table grapes is complete and grape bloom is finished. It was one of the most accelerated blooms in recent memory. We are currently waiting for bunches to fully shatter out, which will give us a better idea of the shape of the bunch in the fall. The berries on the lead bunches have already begun to size up. Leafing is wrapping up this month, and we have begun hanging bunches. This is the process of untangling bunches from canes, leaves, or other bunches to ensure they are hanging freely and that the berries have adequate room to grow.
Today HMC Farms is welcoming back Tevel. This will be the second consecutive year in our orchards for the Israeli ag tech company. While here, Tevel will continue to fine tune their flying autonomous robots for mechanical harvesting. Being immersed in harvest and our fields throughout the summer is a key component to fine tuning the software for farm and commodity specific tasks such as detaching the fruit correctly from the limb, variety by variety variations in color and density, specific release protocols, and more. These robots will eventually allow us to optimize our harvest by giving us the ability to pick fruit on afternoons with high heat, at night, or other windows of time that are currently unavailable. Our high-density planting system makes HMC Farms an ideal partner in this endeavor.
Harvest season is finally here! Peach and nectarine harvest is underway as stone fruit continues to mature and grow in our orchards. Pictured below is our Sangria plum, which will begin harvest at the end of May. Thinning has now wrapped up in our stone fruit orchards. The warm and sunny spring we’re having is perfect for growing great tasting fruit with high sugar content. We have seenexcellent eating quality right out of the gate.
So far fruit looks and tastes as good or better than last year’s vintage crop, and we hope that will continue for the whole season. HMC is expecting similar total volume as last year, with a bit more acreage making up for yields that are expected to be slightly less than last summer. We also expect the industry’s total volume to be down about 10% or so, due to acreage reduction, hail, and frost.Overall sizing seems to be running a bit smaller than last year, and 30 degree swings in this month’s weather created a bit of harvest inconsistency. The eating experience remains excellent with brix higher than the previous season’s average.
We are installing trellis structures in the new planting blocks, and beginning to train juvenile trees into the 2D wall structure. Grape bloom is done in our vineyards, and bunches are shattering out and entering the “berry set” stage. During shattering, unwanted berries fall off the bunch. The remaining berries are then set, and will begin the maturation process as we inch toward the 2022 grape harvest.
Take a look at the before and after of a grape cluster going through bloom shatter. During bloom, excessive flowers fall off of the stem, leaving more space for the berries to grow and develop. During this stage and up to berry softening, the berries are more susceptible to sunburn. With some hotter temperatures in the weeks ahead, we will continue to monitor the crop.
After a winter with sufficient chill hours, some of our earliest stone fruit varieties have started to wake up from their winter hibernation as they push the first blooms of the 2022 season. These first flowers bring anticipation for the upcoming season along with the anxiety of knowing that unfavorable weather conditions can now have deleterious effects on the 2022 crop. Blossoms become commonplace around the valley as hundreds of different stone fruit varieties will be in different stages of bloom in late February and early March.
We are in the process of grafting trees in some of our stone fruit orchards. Grafting is a process in which scion wood (a piece of wood from the desired varietal) is bonded to existing rootstock. This allows the new variety to reach harvest more quickly than planting entirely new trees. Different root stocks are beneficial for different reasons, such as drought resistance, increased vigor, or successful growth in a particular soil type.
We’re planting new trees on the blocks of land we’ve spent the last few months preparing for this very thing. Selecting new varieties is a process which requires a lot of research to ensure that only the best tasting varieties make it to our farms, but we also take other factors, such as harvest timing, into consideration to ensure a consistent flow of delicious fruit is available throughout the harvest season.
Unlike peaches and nectarines, most of our plum varieties are not self-fertile and require pollination from another variety to set a crop. Many blocks of plums are comprised of two or more varieties for cross-pollination. Every year we place beehives in our plum orchards to promote the cross-pollination process. Often, we include “bouquets” of a third plum variety in bins near the orchard as a supplemental pollen source.
We’re starting the new year with a good amount of precipitation on the books already this winter, and a gorgeous view of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains from our office. September-December of 2021, we received 7.52″ of rain on our farms, compared with only 1.89″ in the same timeframe in 2020. We have already blown past the 7.07″ total for Sept 2020-June 2021, and more rain is likely on the way over the next couple of months. In December alone, we received just over five inches of much needed rain on our farms, which is a big step forward from the 1.45″ of precipitation we measured in December of 2020. We are close to wrapping up pruning in our stone fruit orchards, and pruning more heavily in our table grape vineyards during this break in the rain. The weather has been cold, which is perfect for pruning and for accumulating necessary chill hours for our trees and vines.
With the rain we’ve had this winter comes another weather event: Tule fog. Tule fog is a radiation fog that forms in the Central Valley when the ground is damp and temperatures are low. The fog is so dense that visibility is measured in feet, and when visibility is too low our local schools have a late-start “foggy day schedule” to allow the fog to lighten up a bit before school buses can safely operate.Once we’ve finished pruning our trees, we will go back through our traditional orchards to repair any damaged roping, which helps keep the trees in a vase shape and supports the weight of next season’s crop. We are almost ready to plant new trees in the blocks we prepped over the past few months.
January is National Blood Donor Month, and HMC Farms recently hosted an employee blood drive in partnership with Central California Blood Center. Our participants ranged from multiple first time donors to a member of the five gallon club. All of the blood collected at our event will be put to good use in life-saving measures in the Central Valley.
We are done pruning trees in our stone fruit orchards, and through the majority of our grapevine pruning. We are finishing up the final touches on new irrigation systems in our prepped blocks, and we will plant new trees once installation is complete. Field activity will slow down over the next couple of weeks as our trees begin to bloom. By mid-February, the Central Valley should be full of orchards covered in pink and white blossoms.