We are pruning trees in our stone fruit orchards to prepare them for winter. Pruning allows us to shape the trees in order to prepare for next year’s new growth and harvest. Pictured above, the left side of this high density stone fruit block is pruned and the right side hasn’t been pruned yet.
Block prep is happening on our farms. Before new plantings, we perform multiple steps to prepare the land. Pictured above, a large machine called a ripper is digging 5+ feet into the ground with a long shank to break up any hard or compacted streaks in the soil, which provides a better environment for roots to grow.
This is the time of year for reflection and giving thanks. Despite many challenges this year, we still have much to be thankful for. Those challenges gave us the opportunity to adapt and grow, and we successfully made it through an unprecedented summer. While Thanksgiving may look different this year for many of us, we hope that you can spend some quality time with your loved ones – whether in person or virtually.
The grape industry is approximately 50% shipped through the industry estimate of 106,500,000 boxes, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the industry come up short of that number due to the peculiar growing conditions this season. HMC is not quite that far through the season. We are looking forward to our Allison red seedless harvest, which is our biggest volume variety of the season. Red grapes should be available through December, but it is expected that the industry will run short of green grapes before then.
Each year after harvest is complete, we replenish nutrients in the soil of our orchards and vineyards. We take soil samples to determine which nutrients need replenishment and then select from different compost options based on their nutritive values. This year, our post-harvest organic orchards need more nitrogen and our post-harvest conventional orchards need more phosphorus and calcium, so we selected two different compost options to meet each of these needs.
Our Allison red seedless table grapes are finally in harvest! As we shared a few weeks ago, the smoke from California wildfires slowed the maturity of our late season table grapes. That pushed back the harvest window significantly for one of our favorite varieties. Contact your HMC Farms representative for more information on availability and pack styles.
As we look into ways to make table grape harvest more efficient, we are testing out a self-driving cart called Burro. Our employees can harvest grapes and place them onto trays that the Burro drives out to the end of the row for them, eliminating the need to push a heavy cart full of grapes to the end of the row. Not only does this make grape harvest less strenuous on our employees, but it makes the time spent on harvest more efficient by eliminating time spent pushing the carts back and forth in the vineyards. Tune in to this week’s Farm Friday on our Instagram page for more details.
The Holidays are here! Holiday plum harvest will begin soon. This proprietary plum variety is one of our favorites, and we wait for it all season. This late season plum features a speckled red and green exterior, and a variety-specific PLU sticker. Ask your HMC Farms® salesperson for more details.
Just as with stone fruit, this is proving to be a great year for grape quality. Grapes were a little slower to start than normal and have been a bit more difficult to pick than in years past because of some delayed maturity, but the finished product looks, and more importantly tastes, great. With new varieties pushing the overall volume later in the season, September is now the heart of the table grape harvest. While grapes will be great for ads for all of fall (and even into early winter), September is the perfect time to set the stage for a great autumn grape season.
As smoke and ash persist in the Central Valley from nearby wildfires, the impact is noticeable in our table grape vineyards. The smoky skies have acted as a giant shade net over the Central Valley. This results in much lower solar activity, and has led to reduced water needs and slower berry maturation. The overall flavor and brix are not impacted once the berries reach maturity, but it’s taking longer to reach that point.
It’s time to start thinking about new plantings on our farms. In the locations where new trees will be planted, we are removing old trees as the first step in preparing the blocks for new planting. Traditional stone fruit blocks, like the one pictured, will be converted to high density planting. When we choose trees or vines to plant, we consider many factors from flavor to harvest timing. Our goal is to create a consistent flow of the best tasting fruit throughout the stone fruit and table grape seasons. Another thing we consider with harvest timing is workload. Keeping the workload fairly steady allows us to staff our teams properly and avoid labor shortages.
Our mid season table grape harvest is starting to wrap up. We are beginning to scratch around a little in our late season table grape varieties that were delayed by the wildfire smoke that blanketed the Central Valley for weeks. We should be in full harvest for those varieties soon.
Smoke from the multiple wildfires around California settled in the Central Valley this month. We are carefully monitoring the air quality to ensure that our employees working outdoors remain safe, and are deploying additional safety measures as needed.
We’re in the final stretch of the stone fruit season. Though we are closer to the end of the season than the beginning, there is still a lot of good fruit in our lineup over the coming weeks. We are about 80% through peach and nectarine harvest, and about 70% through plum harvest.
It’s hot! Record temperatures this month challenged our crops and people. It’s always hot in the Central Valley in August, but these extreme temperatures require us to take precautionary steps to ensure the quality of our product and the safety of our people. We applied a protective reflecting spray to the tree fruit, while constantly regulating moisture in the ground. We also stopped all field operations at noon when temperatures were too high. While this a big hardship on our time sensitive commodities, the health and welfare of our employees is our top priority. It has been an unusual summer, and this is just one more challenge we’ve dealt with.
We continue to enjoy many of the newer plum varieties that were planted recently. When picked tree ripe, with a bit of give, we have seen sugar levels much higher than traditional plums of the past.
The Fourth of July not only celebrates the independence of our country, but it also marks the “spiritual” half way mark of the stone fruit season, and is the historically referenced start date for grape harvest in our area. The first six weeks of the season definitely require the most effort. We are generally still thinning through early June while picking the most temperamental and time sensitive varieties of the season. The Fourth of July is a point in time at which we reflect, look forward, and take a quick break with our families. We hope you had a moment to relax and celebrate over the holiday (hopefully with a peach in hand).
This month, we used Cane Cutters in our table grape vineyards. This equipment cuts excess growth in the centers of the rows with blades that form an upside down V shape in order to increase sunlight and air flow. Increased sunlight helps our red and black seedless grape varieties gain color, and extra air flow helps to prevent disease pressure in grape clusters and vines.
HMC Farms table grape harvest is now underway in our vineyards, kicking off our table grape season! Overnight lows have remained under 70°F, which is great for color development in our red and black seedless table grape varieties.
HMC Farms regularly monitors soil moisture to ensure that we are providing the proper amount of irrigation to our trees and vines. We combine several sources of information from physical examination to sensors, and even the weather forecast, to determine the proper frequency and duration of irrigation. This topic was featured in our Farm Friday Instagram story, a weekly behind the scenes look at what’s happening at HMC Farms. Find us on Instagram here, and follow along with our Farm Fridays!
It’s been a vintage year so far for California stone fruit. We have received more than normal complimentary letters about the great tasting stone fruit. Newer varieties and a discipline to only pick the most mature fruit has put these summertime favorites back on top. We are half way through the season and should have good eating well into September.
Our platform equipment is now being used for harvest in our high density stone fruit orchards! This is an exciting moment for us, since this concept has taken three years of hard work and dedication to come to fruition.
We recently installed an optical grader to the packline in our plum packing house at HMC Reedley. The optical sorter not only improves our efficiency by automatically removing fruit with defects before it reaches the pack tables, but it also provides detailed statistics about each lot of fruit that help us improve our practices out in the field. Our plum team is pictured above (Raul, Paula, Nick and Greg).
Veraison is just beginning in our Flame table grapes, which is the point at which ripening begins. Red and black varieties begin to change color, and green varieties lose some opacity as natural sugars begin to accumulate in the berries. These particular grapes will be ready to harvest next month.
We are excited to begin harvest of our proprietary Plumsicle™ later this week. This piece of fruit was selected purely for flavor reasons and we think it is unequivocally the best tasting plum or plumcot of the season (don’t tell the Holiday plum, Honey Punch, or Ebony Rose that we said that). They will be available this season in 1# clams and 2# bags, with the variety name itself proudly featured on the package.
Harvest has begun in our stone fruit orchards! At this point, the fruit is a little smaller than normal due to the decreased amount of time between bloom and harvest, and the timing is a little ahead of last year.
It’s hot! Last week we experienced rain and peak temperatures around 72°, this week’s record projected heat is as high as 109°. Grapes and stone fruit don’t like this heat any more than people. In stone fruit, extreme heat slows everything down and halts growth, causing some heat damage to the fruit – especially dark colored plums. In table grapes, any of the exposed berries not covered by foliage will burn.
A few months ago, we increased efficiency and eliminated the need for ladders by using platforms in our high density stone fruit orchards. Since then, we have started to experiment by attaching an artificial light to the same equipment to perform “night thinning.” Beginning before the sun comes up, crews are able to finish this crucial process in the cool morning hours. Going forward, we will modify our picking by transitioning this process into harvest, resulting in an optimal product by removing the afternoon heat. This is an efficient operation that benefits the workers and product by eliminating the summer heat.
We are moving rake wire in our table grape vineyards. This process opens up a wire in the middle of the trellis that helps guide and organize the canes and their growth to conform to the V shape of the trellis. There are multiple benefits of rake wire use. It helps get all of the clusters to hang out in the “fruiting zone” underneath the trellis, making maintenance and harvest more efficient. Sunlight is allowed in to hit the bottom of canes, which helps with fruitfulness in next year’s crop. A pocket forms for air to flow and escape, reducing chances of humidity getting trapped underneath the canopy.
Plum trees are not self-pollinating like peach and nectarine trees, so they require pollination from other plum varieties in order to produce fruit. To give our plums the best chance of pollination, we plant blocks of cross-pollinating varieties adjacent to each other on large ranches. It is important to choose varieties which bloom at the same time to ensure that bees can do their work, moving pollen from the blossoms of one variety to another. when the bloom timing of the varieties is off, or when the weather is too cold for bees to fly (below 55°F), the result is a short plum crop. As pictured, we have lots of uniform bloom this year, which is hopefully a good sign for a full plum harvest.
Our dormant grape vineyards recently received a layer of compost to help feed soil microbes and replenish depleted nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil. Using compost allows us to maintain soil health using organic forms of nutrients, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer. To ensure the compost we use is safe to apply, it is put into rows, brought to an appropriate temperature, and turned multiple times to ensure any pathogens are cooked out. The timing of compost application depends on the weather – we wait until late winter has passed so that heavy rains don’t wash minerals past the root zone and the temperature is warm enough for soil microbes to be active.
We are taking as many precautions as possible to ensure a continued supply of nutritious produce during these unprecedented times. We are staggering break and meal periods in our facilities to minimize the number of people in a given area at one time, we have changed configurations in our processing facility to maximize social distancing, and we are continuing to follow our already extremely high standards for hygiene and food safety. We are also fogging common areas with disinfectant during off hours and have procured additional laptops to allow some employees to work from home as necessary. We are planning for the upcoming stone fruit season, with thinning starting. So far there looks to be a heavy crop load, which will require extensive and timely thinning of our crop. We are watching the skies closely as there is rain in the forecast, and we have approached the time of spring in which precipitation that turns into hail can be incredibly devastating.
Several members of our team from sales, production, and quality control recently visited our HMC Farms office in Chile. The group was also able to visit vineyards and packing facilities in multiple growing regions throughout the country. The key takeaway from the trip was an enhanced understanding of the scale and complexity of farming operations in Chile, as well as the unique challenges regarding production coordination, farming practices, and logistics.
The Fresno County Blossom Trail is one of the main early-spring attractions of California’s Central Valley. Each year from late February through mid-March, delicate blossoms from peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, almond, and apple trees decorate the 62 mile loop. Part of our farms sit directly on the blossom trail, adding pink blooms from our peach and nectarine orchards and white blooms from our plum orchards to this stunning display of natural beauty.
National School Breakfast Week, which launched in 1989 in order to raise awareness of and participation in school breakfast programs, is March 2-6. As alternative serving methods, such as breakfast in the classroom and breakfast on the bus, have gained in popularity, prepackaged and ready-to-eat items have become a staple in school breakfasts. HMC Farms provides value-added grapes, such as our washed and ready-to-eat Grape Escape, to schools across the nation as part of their school nutrition programs — which include breakfast, lunch, and snacks!
Heart of Ag Wellness Center is now open! Heart of Ag is a private medical facility which HMC Farms employees can use at no charge. The center provides a wide range of basic healthcare services from flu shots to annual physicals and much more. The ribbon cutting ceremony drew in special guests, including Assemblymen Joaquin Arambula and Devon Mathis, representatives from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and State Senator Melissa Hurtado’s offices, and the mayor of Selma. With the ever-changing landscape of healthcare in the United States, we are excited to offer this opportunity to our employees!
Pruning remains ongoing in our tree fruit orchards. Rain cover removal continues in our grape vineyards to prepare for pruning to begin within a couple of weeks. The forecast shows overnight lows cool enough for our dormant trees and vines to get some chill hours – we’ll touch on this more when we return in 2020.