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.

HMC News – June 2020

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.

Nectarine harvest at HMC Farms using new ag technology: platform equipment

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).

Personnel from HMC Reedley's plum team standing by new plum grader equipment

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.

Veraison in HMC Farms table grapes, grape color is changing from green to red

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.

Plumsicle™ proprietary plum or plumcot variety displayed in 2lb bag and 1lb clam packaging

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.

HMC News – March 2020

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.

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.

HMC News – October 2, 2019

Allison red seedless table grapes are now in harvest! The crunchy texture and sweet flavor of the berries make Allison a memorable varietal that brings people back for more. Contact your HMC salesperson for more information on pack styles and availability.

Crop Update:

HMC Farms tree fruit season is winding down, but table grape harvest is still going strong. At this point, all vines have been covered for rain protection. Timco, Allison, and Krissy red seedless grapes are in harvest, as well as Autumn King green seedless grapes. The forecast shows a few cool days leading up to a warm start to next week. The overnight lows are in a range that should help move the color along in our red seedless grape varietals.

HMC News – September 25, 2019

We are currently in the process of placing vine cover on our late season grape varieties. Vine cover protects grapes from early rain in September and October. The timing of the cover placement is important because we don’t want to cover the vines in very hot temperatures and trap heat around the grapes, but we also want to protect the grapes from rainfall as early as possible. We normally begin covering our grape vines in early to mid September, when we begin to see chances of precipitation in the forecast.

Crop Update:

Harvest continues to slow for HMC Farms tree fruit. Table grape harvest is in full swing. Timco red seedless grapes have begun harvest. Allison red seedless and Autumn King green seedless grapes will harvest soon. The weather on our farms has jumped back into the 90s for a few days, but the forecast shows a progressive drop in high temperatures, putting highs in the 70s to start next week.

Stone fruit galette recipe, as seen on Indy Style morning show

Stone fruit harvest is beginning to slow down at HMC Farms, so we are squeezing in as many ways to enjoy our delicious bounty as possible. One of our favorite quick and easy recipes for a dessert that’s sure to impress is a stone fruit galette. If you haven’t heard of a galette, it’s similar to an open-faced pie. It can be made using a single type of stone fruit, like peaches, or a variety of your favorites. In this case, we used peaches, nectarines, and plums to make a mixed fruit galette.

This recipe was featured on the Indy Style morning show by Lori Taylor from The Produce Moms. If you missed the episode, click here to watch how easy it is to make this crowd-pleasing dessert or brunch addition.

What you’ll need:

  • 6-8 pieces of HMC Farms peaches, nectarines, plums, plumcots, or summerwhites
  • Pie crust (pre made crust works just fine, but you can also make it from scratch)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar + 1 Tbsp for sprinkling (raw sugar can be used here)
  • 1 Tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-2 Tbsp flour or cornstarch to thicken the filling
  • Beaten egg or cream for the edges of the crust

Steps to the easiest impressive dessert you’ve ever made:

  • Preheat the oven to 375° and roll out pie crust on parchment paper on top of baking pan or stone.
  • Slice the HMC Farms fruit.

Tip: A lot of our HMC Farms peaches and nectarines are clingstone varieties. We’ve found that the easiest way to create pretty slices of fruit is to place the fruit on a cutting board with the stem side down and slice straight down on each side around the pit. These larger pieces can be sliced more easily that trying to separate each slice from the pit individually.

  • Combine all ingredients (except for the egg or cream wash and the 1Tbsp of sugar) in a large bowl and gently stir.
  • Place the mixture from the bowl in the center of the pie crust.
  • Fold the crust in about 2” in overlapping pieces to create a pleated look.
  • Brush the top edges of the crust with the cream or beaten egg, and sprinkle the remaining sugar on it.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, checking every 5-10 min beginning at 30 min.
    Tip: some of the juices will run out from the galette in the oven. Don’t be alarmed by this, but do prepare in order to prevent a mess in the bottom of your oven..
  • Remove galette from the oven and cool on a rack.