HMC News – March 2021

This month, HMC Farms held a two day COVID-19 vaccination clinic for employees of HMC and several nearby ag businesses. At this point, we have successfully distributed vaccines to more than 450 agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley, in partnership with the California Farmworker Foundation and Heart of Ag (the free-to-employee clinic we sponsor) – both relationships built before the pandemic. Sarah McClarty, Chief Financial Officer at HMC stated at the event, “To watch every employee in our organization who wants a vaccine receive one over the last two days has been the biggest win in what has been an extremely challenging twelve months.”

People waiting in line at vaccination clinic

Research and development are crucial to our success as a farming business. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our farming methods by studying a wide variety of topics. One of our Plumsicle™ orchards is pictured above. This is one example of the results of years of research and development to improve the maintenance and growing processes, while planning ahead for the use of future ag technologies. While we often show you these trees during harvest time, the blossom stage gives a clear view of the high density setup.

Blooming plum trees in high density planting block - trees are planted close together and supported by a trellis

This month, we’ve had both rain and hail in the Central Valley. Hail can pose a significant threat to our crops if it occurs at the wrong time. Right now, our stone fruit is in three different stages: blossoms, developing fruit with the jacket (base of the blossom) still attached, and juvenile fruit outside of the jacket. Blossoms essentially have no vulnerability to the hail we’ve had – even if we lose some blossoms, that can be chalked up to thinning. The developing fruit with the jacket still attached still has some protection against the elements. The most vulnerable of these stages is the juvenile fruit that has just shed its jacket, and the growth process moving forward. About 20% or less of our crop is in the post-jacket stage at this point, and we will evaluate any hail damage in the coming days.

Orchard of fruit trees with pink blossoms, water puddle from rain in the foreground

Bud break is happening in our early season table grape vineyards. This means that tiny buds on the vine have begun to swell up and give way to leaves using energy stored up during dormancy over the winter. Pictured above is a Flame red seedless table grape vineyard, our first variety to harvest. We generally compare the timing of the growth cycle with previous years, but bud break itself is not a solid benchmark for harvest time because the weather after it occurs has a significant impact on timing for the rest of the growth cycle. While bud break began about the same time as last year, the cooler weather over the past couple of weeks has slowed down growth across our vineyards.

Pruned grape vineyard with green leaves beginning to open up from dormant vines

We are now thinning our early season stone fruit varietals. During the thinning process, we remove excess immature fruit, leaving behind only about 2-4 pieces per hanger (shoots from permanent tree branches which bear fruit). This time consuming job is labor intensive, and can only be done by hand. The amount of fruit we leave behind varies based on the specific variety. Thinning will continue for months as our mid and late season varietals reach the appropriate point in the growth process.

Three photos: one of a peach tree branch with clusters of baby fruit before thinning, another of lots of baby fruit on the ground from thinning, and the third with a peach tree branch after thinning with only one or two pieces of fruit left

HMC News – February 2021

We received a total of 3.39″ of precipitation in the month of January. Compared with the past two years, this January had significantly more precipitation. January 2019 had a total of 2.83″ of rain, and January 2020 saw just 0.77″ in the entire month. We hope that this is a good sign for this year’s annual rain total in the Central Valley.

Winter trees with flooding in the foreground

HMC Farms had the honor of partnering with the California Farmworker Foundation to begin to provide COVID shots to our farmworkers this month. Speaking about the event, Harold McClarty commented, “We have all struggled during these very difficult times. We are very grateful and supportive of all the work this organization has done for farmworkers. It gives us some hope that we will persevere and continue to move forward with our work to support the nation’s food supply.”

Man gets vaccine shot in arm

Blossoms are opening up in our stone fruit orchards and along the rest of the famous Fresno County Blossom Trail. This is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the Central Valley, drawing people from near and far to drive or bike along the trail and take in the beautiful pink and white blossoms filling orchards for miles. For more information on the Fresno County Blossom Trail, visit their website here.

Tops of plum trees with white blossoms, mountains in the background

We are grafting in some of our stone fruit orchards. If you’ve ever driven past an orchard that looked like a bunch of stumps with only one limb, chances are you’ve seen grafting in progress. Grafting is the process of adding a new variety to existing rootstock. This allows us to harvest the new variety in a shorter timeframe by utilizing the rootstock that’s already in the ground instead of starting from scratch with completely new trees. Look closely at the photo above and you will see what appear to be sticks coming out of the cut portion of the tree. Those sticks are actually called scion wood, and are the June Time peach variety that will soon grow in this orchard. The remaining limb, called the nurse limb, is left on the tree to help keep it alive until the grafted scions are growing well, and it will eventually be removed.

Orchard with fruit trees going through graftin process - stumps with one branch with pink blossoms

HMC News – August 2020

Grape vineyard with smoky sky from wildfires in California

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.

Two white peaches on the tree. Snow Princess white peach from HMC Farms.

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.

News article describing the record-breaking heat in California's Central Valley - reaching 112 one day

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.

Two types of plums with a brix meter showing 20.1 on the screen.

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.

HMC News – July 2020

McClarty family from HMC Farms walking through orchard

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).

Table grape cane cutting equipment in a vineyard at HMC Farms

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.

Crews harvesting table grapes at HMC farms using umbrellas

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 table grape vineyard drip irrigation line and soil moisture

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!

Boy bites into a freshly picked peach in an orchard at HMC Farms

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.

Get the stone fruit you want from grocery shopping services

If you’ve ever second-guessed ordering produce through a shopping service like Instacart or curbside pickup at your local grocer, you’re not alone! Trying to calculate the number of pounds of peaches you need for a pie or ginger you need for a recipe is tricky – we once ended up with a giant bag of ginger in our curbside grocery pickup because half a pound of ginger is way more than you think it is. Whether you want to get the right quantity of fruit, or simply communicate your preference of soft vs firm fruit with your shopper, we’re here to help!

add notes: tell your shopper if you prefer your peaches soft or firm, and can even request fruit with no green in the stem well

Add notes.

Some shopping services, like Instacart, allow shoppers to add comments or instructions for each item. This is where you can tell your shopper if you prefer your peaches soft or firm, and can even request fruit with no green in the stem well.

Make a plan for how much fruit you need: Peach pie: 5-6 pieces, Stone fruit cobbler: 6-8 pieces, Stone fruit galette: 6-8 pieces, Peach/nectarine salsa: 3 pieces. Store fruit properly. Peaches, plums, and nectarines are best stored on the counter at room temperature until reaching your desired level of softness. Need to speed up the softening process? Try putting the fruit in a paper bag. Check the fruit daily, and once it's ready, enjoy right away or place in the fridge to extend its useful life. 

Plan what you need.

Eating nectarines as a snack? Using peaches in a recipe? Order the right amount of fruit with a little bit of planning. Here’s a guide to quantities for some of our favorite recipes:

Peach pie: 5-6 pieces

Stone fruit cobbler: 6-8 pieces

Stone fruit galette: 6-8 pieces

Peach/nectarine salsa: 3 pieces

 

Store fruit properly.

Peaches, plums, and nectarines are best stored on the counter at room temperature until reaching your desired level of softness. Need to speed up the softening process? Try putting the fruit in a paper bag. Check the fruit daily, and once it’s ready, enjoy right away or place in the fridge to extend its useful life.

Have a backup plan. Try using extra fruit in a smoothie of freezing it to use later!

Have a backup plan.

If you ended up with more fruit than you wanted, or if your plans changed and you have fruit that’s on its last leg, try making a smoothie or freezing the fruit for future use as an ingredient! There are several recipes available in our blog that offer alternative uses for fruit that’s just past its prime.

Peach oat muffins recipe

Vanilla peach smoothie popsicle recipe

Stone fruit galette recipe

HMC News – May 2020

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.

Feeling Peachy: Activity Sheets for Kids from The Produce Moms

Stone Fruit {Tree Fruit}

Feeling peachy? Stone fruit season is in full bloom, and we couldn’t be more excited that our friends at The Produce Moms created some fun peach-themed activity sheets for kids!
Original blog on The Produce Moms website

What exactly is a stone fruit (also referred to as tree fruit)? It’s a fruit with a large, hard pit or “stone” inside of it. The stone contains the seeds or kernels of the fruit. The stone fruit category includes peaches, nectarines, plums, plumcots, apricots, cherries and more!

Let’s take a little closer at the anatomy of a stone fruit…

Feeling Peachy Activity Sheets

As we know, education is key to consumption.  We love to create activity sheets focused on fruits and veggies.  It is a great way for kids to learn more about the fresh produce that they love to eat. In our first activity sheet, we have the kids complete the basic anatomy of a peach.  Using a color-by-number approach, they will also learn what each part of the peach is called.  Also on the first activity sheet is a fun math problem.  But be careful, the math problem is a bit tricky!

Our second activity sheet is a funny & peachy story created “Mad Lib” style.  Kids will fill in the blanks with words of their choice and be able to create their own story! Some of the younger kids may need help with the parts of speech. The best part is that you can create multiple stories with this activity!  We also have a fun suggestion for adding stone fruit to your next pancake breakfast!

HMC News – April 2020

Take a look at a before and after of tree fruit thinning in one of our peach orchards, pictured below. Thinning is a process in which we remove under sized or over crowded pieces of fruit from our trees. This allows our trees to provide better nutrients to the remaining fruit for better sizing and flavor. It also protects tree limbs from breaking due to the heavy weight of too many pieces of fruit. During this process, our crews are also able to remove unnecessary new growth to save time and costs by not taking another pass through the orchards to prune this growth later.

We are in the midst of planting new grape varieties on our farms. Once the ground is prepped and the irrigation lines are set up, planting locations are marked and new vines are planted. It’s important for the irrigation to be set up first in order to irrigate the land before and after planting, allowing the vines to ease into their new environment. As you can see here, each new vine is given a bamboo stick for support and training purposes and a carton for protection. After the vines are planted, we work on installing our V-trellis system, which has begun with the stakes visible in the photo below.

Our stone fruit orchards are coming along nicely. The early-season peaches pictured above, which are right outside our office, are just about the size of ping pong balls. As you can see, they are already gaining a blush color. Over the coming weeks, they will grow quite a bit as they prepare for harvest, which will begin soon in our orchards. With temperatures in the mid 80s, we should have a very good quality and taste to start the season. Last year, we had lower than normal temperatures and rain for much of May, which impacted our quality. This year’s crop looks exceptionally good, and we should have great tasting fruit by mid-May, with a harvest schedule similar to last year.

HMC News – February 2020

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!

HMC News – January 2020

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.