A summer storm made its way to the Central Valley this month. An estimated 1/4″ of rain touched down on our farms, which is unprecedented at this time of year. Some stone showed hardly any impact, while other blocks were more significantly impacted. It appears that the rain impacted all commodities to some degree and the varieties that were just ready to be harvested and in the middle of harvest were most severely affected.
Table grape harvest remains ongoing. We’re seeing an impressive crop of green seedless varietals coming out of our vineyards this year. All commodities appear to be ahead of schedule compared to last year’s harvest, ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks.
HMC recently attended the Global Grape Summit with attendees and speakers from six continents (unfortunately no penguins or Antarctic researchers could attend) to discuss viewpoints on the evolution and future of the grape industry. One point of discussion was the impact of the explosion of new varieties, with many different opinions from growers, retailers, and the four major international grape breeders. Harold, as a scheduled speaker, explained that to stone fruit growers, a multitude of varietal options is nothing new. He further explained that many new varieties come with characteristics beneficial to the grower which also provide a better consumer experience. As a business, we not only compete with other grape and stone fruit growers, but also other fruit commodities vying for the shoppers’ dollar. Improved eating characteristics provided by some of the new varieties help inspire consumers to add our products to their shopping baskets.
We are tipping and thinning clusters in our table grape vineyards. During this process, each grape cluster is inspected and clipped to reduce the density of berries and obtain a manageable overall bunch size.
At this point, we are getting into a nice harvest groove. Peach, plum, and nectarine harvest is moving right along in our orchards, with flavor continuing to impress across our early season varieties.
Plumsicle™ harvest has begun! As expected, the crop is sweet and flavorful. Plumsicle is available only in limited supplies this year, but we continue to add more acreage to our Plumsicle orchards each year. For more information on Plumsicle, visit our new dedicated website hmcplumsicle.com.
Last week, some heavy winds and precipitation made their way to our farms. This actually kept us out of the fields for a day, which never happens in the summer. The wind blew quite a bit of fruit off of our trees, and some trees even blew over. After a week of days peaking at over 100°F, the forecast finally shows a little relief as we are expected to drop back into the 90s, and potentially a hair below that for the holiday on Monday. In our table grape vineyards, we’ve seen a little bit of burn on the varieties that haven’t entered veraison yet, but nothing compared to last year. Thankfully, this year’s heat wave came a little later, which meant that there was more canopy coverage in the vineyards to offer shade and protection to berries susceptible to sunburn. Our Sweet Bond and Flame red seedless varieties are gaining color, and Ivory green seedless is in veraison. Berries are still sizing up across our vineyards.
April’s weather has been a rollercoaster, bouncing around 20 degrees up and down over a few days more than once. Thankfully, the forecast ahead shows weather conducive to stone fruit growth.
We are thinning stone fruit in our stone fruit orchards. Thinning removes excess, under-sized, or damaged juvenile fruit from our trees. This ensures that nutrients are directed to fewer pieces of fruit, resulting in better size and flavor. It also protects the tree from damage due to too much weight on the limbs. Hail damage is prevalent across the industry in scattered pockets. We’ve discovered hail damaged stone fruit on a couple of our ranches, as well as some damage to the vines in one location where the hail was most prevalent. We’ve been able to remove some of the damaged fruit in the thinning process, but there is a limit to how much that can help.
In our table grape vineyards, the crop looks very healthy. The vines are all pushing strongly and evenly, and we seem to be running a little earlier than last year at this point. Shoots continue to develop, and clusters are forming on the early season varietals in our table grape vineyards. Soon, the clusters will begin to bloom and then set fruit.
Early season varieties are beginning to show some blush. Pictured above is our Krista yellow peach variety, which is now larger than a golf ball. Thinning continues in our mid and late-season varieties, and we’ve begun training young plum trees.
Stone fruit continues to develop in our orchards as we approach harvest. Pictured above is our Zee Fire yellow nectarine variety, which is about a week behind the Krista yellow peach. After weathering last week’s storm, we are eager for the stone fruit season to begin.
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 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.
As a family owned farming business, we are always excited when we have the opportunity to partner with other local businesses in California’s Central Valley on different types of projects. Sometimes that leads to delicious pies and specialty ice cream flavors, and other times it leads to beautiful artwork.
This year, we had the opportunity to partner with Lauren, owner of Paper Farm Press, on a grape project. Paper Farm Press is a fellow Central Valley business which creates hand printed cards, stationery, and artwork prints using vintage printing machines affectionately named Willa and Heidi. Their mission is to cultivate community by learning about farming, encouraging others through hand-printed cards, and sharing recipes. Lauren’s work blends her faith with local agriculture, which requires a fair amount of faith in itself, in order to create beautiful pieces with important messages.
When Lauren, who happens to be one of our grape growers, reached out to us to learn more about the grape growing process, we were happy to help. We provided her with all of the details about preparing the soil, irrigating, pruning, growth stages, and harvesting our table grape vineyards. We also shared the ways in which we’re using agricultural technology to make our vineyard maintenance and harvest processes more efficient. Most people may think of grapes as a seasonal commodity, but farming truly is a year-round commitment to caring for and maintaining the vines and the land on which they grow. With the information provided by HMC Farms, coupled with Lauren’s design skills, the Paper Farm Press “Grapeful for You” stationery box came to fruition. Every piece in the collection is beautiful, but the artwork print “How to Grow Table Grapes to Feed the World” is the perfect interpretation of the work we do in our vineyards at HMC Farms.
One of our favorite things about Paper Farm Press, aside from the creation of beautiful handmade pieces, is the use of agricultural-based puns. We’re so grapeful that we had the opportunity to share the process of growing, maintaining, and harvesting our grape vineyards with Lauren. Paper Farm Press has graciously extended a 15% discount to friends of HMC Farms for all of their products, including the “Grapeful for You” collection, with code GRAPEFUL15.
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.
HMC Farms recently participated in an ag tech summit at Reedley College to determine the future needs of the ag work force in specialty crops over the next ten years. HMC Farms is a progressive leader in mechanization and technology. We recognized years ago that our time and labor sensitive commodities are not sustainable the way they are produced today. Our role, if stone fruit and table grapes are to exist and be viable in the future, is to combine a technological approach with an educated workforce. This year, we made decisions on which blocks to pick, thin, etc. depending on the daily availability of labor which left fruit on the tree and not harvested.
We live in small towns in the Central Valley that all depend on agriculture, and we have a responsibility to the communities that support us and that we grew up in to find solutions to this changing environment. The purpose of these continuing conferences is to educate community colleges and expose our need for a workforce that reflects the change in the way we get our product in a box and to the marketplace. Exchanging entry level, lower paying, difficult jobs for better paying, more sophisticated, less physically demanding ones is our goal. To make this successful, there must be cooperative effort between colleges, our industry and government for these specialty crops and small towns to continue to exist. It was encouraging to see the celebration of talent and dedication it will take to make this successful. Our way of life depends on it.