Harvest continues in all tree fruit commodities, both organic and conventional. While the fruit may not have known there was a recent holiday this month, we did, and were happy to celebrate with fresh Peach cobbler, a stone fruit salad and a few more of our favorite summer tree fruit recipes (after we finished picking and packing). We hope all who celebrated had a happy and safe Fourth of July filled with fresh fruit and a few fireworks!
This month a heat wave with temperatures peaking at 114 degrees Fahrenheit hit the central valley. This requires earlier and shorter harvest hours for tree fruit, so crews can pick in the morning when it is cool and avoid the exceedingly high heat in the afternoons. The fruit tends to stall at these temperatures, meaning it goes into a state of lower activity, with minimal growth and maturity during peak temperatures. For grapes, the risk of sunburn is still worrisome, especially in later varieties that have not yet completed verasion.
Traditional “sunburn” happens wherever the sun touches the fruit at those high temperatures and is fairly obvious right away. Recently, we started noticing some berries that were protected from the sun and in shade were beginning to shrivel. The good news is we left more fruit on the vine than in previous years, hopefully it will help compensate for the shriveled berries.
With forecasts lingering above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, heat awareness is increasingly important. People are encouraged to take additional water breaks, are reminded of the warning signs for heat illness, and work in a buddy system. This is when we see increased benefits in our ag technology. All picking platforms have built in shade canopies, to provide relief from the heat and the burden of carrying a heavy ladder. Drone or robotic harvesting can be utilized in the future on these exceedingly hot days. Pictured below is an advanced farm harvester that can pick tree fruit in day or night conditions. Click here to see them in action.
Even though it seems like we have been at this for months, we are only halfway through our stone fruit season. It has been a quality eating year and some of the best varieties are yet to come. Fortunately, the heat did little damage to the existing fruit, and we are all looking forward to a slight cool down. This is the perfect time to get in extra stone fruit ads before the season begins to wind down. Grapes are starting slow, much like stone fruit did. In about a week or two we will get into full harvest volumes and are hoping to have ample volume for the entire season. The season harvest dates are remaining later than “normal”, and we are still unsure if that trend will continue for the remainder of 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.
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.
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.
We are just coming off of a jump from temperatures in the 90s to a ten day stretch of temperatures reaching highs over 100 degrees, at least half of which were 105° or beyond. The heat wave peaked on Sunday, as temperatures hit up to 110° in some places on our farms. Extended periods of high heat can have a significant impact on our crops, especially when overnight lows don’t dip down enough to give our trees and vines some relief. We typically like the overnight lows to be in the mid 60s or below during the summer to allow for color and sugar development. A heat wave like this slows our production, increases stress on trees and vines, and reduces our harvest to half days because it’s too hot for crews to harvest.
Harvest remains ongoing for HMC Farms peaches, plums, nectarines, and Flame red seedless table grapes. Ivory green seedless table grapes are on track to begin harvest soon. The forecast shows highs dipping slightly to the high 90s for a few days before popping back up into the 100s over the weekend for another five days.