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 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.
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!
Welcome to a new decade! Although it’s winter on our farms, there’s still a lot going on…
Recent weather has provided some crucial chill hours to our trees and vines. Chill hours occur when the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F while our trees and vines are dormant. Each variety and type of fruit has different chill hour requirements, which can range from approximately 100-800 hours. We currently have more than 700 chill hours logged on our farms. That’s around 200 hours more than we had at this point last year. January rainfall on our farms is average for the Central Valley. Once the chill hours have been reached and the weather begins to warm, our trees and vines begin to come out of dormancy, signaled by buds and blooms.
Weather in California’s Central Valley has its own unique attributes. One of the things that sets us apart is tule fog. No ordinary mist, tule fog is radiation fog, which forms when humidity is high and the ground is cold with little to no wind. This dense ground fog often forms in the days following rain in the Central Valley, causing sections of very low visibility – often 1/4 mile (.4 km) or less. This low visibility leads to “foggy day schedules” at our local schools as school buses and parents wait for visibility to increase for safe driving conditions.
The trees in our high density orchards have now grown to a point which opens the door to a new method of tree pruning utilizing a platform instead of ladders. In comparison with ladder use, the platform saves time and increases safety for our field crews by eliminating the need to climb up and down a ladder and then move it a few feet to start the process again. The platform is beneficial for many farming activities in our high density orchards, including pruning, thinning, and harvest. We are excited to see how this new piece of equipment will increase our efficiency throughout the tree fruit cycle this year.
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.
High density planting, shown above, allows our farm crews to prune, thin, and harvest the organized rows with greater efficiency. Now that these trees have grown large enough, we will bring in a platform pruning system to prepare them for winter and the coming season. This new method of farming will ultimately result in an even better quality of product and more efficient system of delivery for the California stone fruit system.
Our weather has finally caught up with the calendar. Since Thanksgiving, we’ve received about 2.59″ of rain, which is more than 20% of our annual average. Sunday, a thunderstorm dropped quite a bit of hail in some spots on our dormant farms. The forecast shows no rain through the weekend, with precipitation popping up again toward the end of next week. We’ve had a some foggy mornings this week, which are likely to continue due to ground moisture.
Traditional pruning is quite labor-intensive, and we are always looking for ways to improve upon the process. This year, we are using a pre-pruner in preparation for pruning our grape vines. The pre-pruner thins out excess growth and performs a basic cut on vines, significantly reducing the amount of time crews need to spend on pruning. This should allow crews to more easily access the vines for targeted pruning, making the overall process more efficient.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, some precipitation finally materialized in our area, allowing us to complete grape harvest just before the rain began. The lack of any early rain this year was highly unusual, but it seems that we’ve gotten back on track. We are removing rain covers in our grape vineyards and pruning in our stone fruit orchards, taking breaks to enjoy “farmer’s holidays” during the welcome rainy weather.
Pruning is in full force in our traditional tree fruit orchards, as pictured above. As you can see, the trees are bare of leaves, allowing our crews to distinguish between older wood and fruiting wood. We will soon begin pruning in our high density planting orchards, which is a slightly different process. Pruning allows us to prepare for the next season by maintaining the shape and structure of the trees.
HMC Farms table grape harvest is rapidly winding down. The weather has continued to cooperate with our harvest, helping to maintain excellent grape quality. It looks like we may finally see some precipitation in the middle of next week. The forecast shows high temperatures in the 60s with some chilly overnight lows to start Thanksgiving week.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the original Lunch Bunch® grapes! Lunch Bunch grapes were the original value added grape solution for HMC Farms, dating back to 1979, and they continue to be a staple in our product offerings. To learn more about the Lunch Bunch, contact your HMC Farms salesperson.
Table grape harvest continues to thrive in the current weather conditions. Timco, Allison, and Vintage red seedless grapes and Autumn King green seedless grapes are in active harvest. Tree pruning will begin soon in our peach, nectarine, and plum orchards. The forecast shows more sunny days with high temperatures in the low to mid 70s. We still have seen no signs of early rain, which is unusual this far into October.
PMA Fresh Summit was a great opportunity to catch up with many of our customers, vendors, and other produce industry contacts. Thank you to those who took the time to stop by our booth and also view our Nickelodeon™ ready-to-eat grape packs in the Fresh Ideas Showcase! We hope you enjoyed a glimpse into what’s new and what we have coming soon. If you didn’t have an opportunity to visit us at Fresh Summit, contact your HMC Farms salesperson for more information on our new products and plans for the coming year.
Timco, Allison, and Vintage red seedless grapes and Autumn King green seedless grapes are in active harvest. The forecast shows sunny days with high temperatures in the mid to high 80s over the next few days, dropping off over the weekend to start next week in the mid 70s. There is still no rain in the forecast, which is a little unusual at this point in the year, but we will continue to monitor any chances of precipitation as they arise.