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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Harvest is beginning in our peach orchards this week! Yellow nectarines, white peaches, and white nectarines are scheduled to begin harvest next week. We anticipate being in full volume harvest by the week of May 20.
Around this time of year, each grape berry reveals a tiny flower called bloom. The clusters of grapes have an excess of berries, so we need to thin them during the bloom. Because thinning grapes by hand would be quite time consuming and costly, we complete grape thinning by spraying. This process allows room for each berry to grow to an appropriate size, resulting in better quality grapes. The timing of this spray is crucial to its success.
Precipitation has crept back into the weekly forecast. We will continue to monitor the weather closely as we approach potential thunderstorms.
Harvest is rapidly approaching for our peaches, followed by nectarines and then plums in the coming weeks. From this point forward, our tree fruit will continue to grow and deepen in color until harvest. Keep in contact with your HMC salesperson for harvest updates.
This week’s forecast calls for warm days and cool lows. We are nearing the end of weather concerns, and heading toward hot, sunny days. Our tree fruit thinning is more than half complete, and bunches continue to form on our grape vines.
Our peaches, plums, and nectarines continue to grow as summer approaches. As pictured, our peaches are beginning to gain a little bit of blush color. The anticipated sunshine and warm weather ahead will help our fruit continue to grow and deepen in color and flavor. Things are shaping up for harvest to begin a couple of days later than last year’s start date, which may shift slightly depending on the weather over the next couple of weeks. Keep in contact with your HMC salesperson for harvest updates.
Hot days are upon us, but a chance of precipitation lingers in the forecast. We are in the final weeks of historically-based weather concerns. Our tree fruit thinning is approximately halfway completed, and grape bunches are forming on our vines.
Reedley College has revealed the location of the future McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The land on the northeast corner of the campus which is the future home of the new building is not just an important piece of the school’s future, but also an important piece of local history: the place where the town of Reedley was founded. The McClarty Family Foundation made a sizable donation to support this effort, which is a cause near and dear to Harold’s heart. Ground-breaking is anticipated to begin in about a year, and the building itself is slated for completion in approximately two years.
Thinning continues in our tree fruit orchards, and our table grape vineyards remain in the shoot development stage of growth. We received a dusting of rain early this week, with warm and sunny days in the forecast.
When the baby fruit on our trees is just under the size of a ping pong ball, we proceed with thinning in our orchards. Thinning involves removing under sized or over crowded pieces of fruit from our trees, which has multiple benefits. By removing excess and under-sized pieces of fruit, the tree is able to provide nutrients to the fruit that remains and the sun will be able to better reach the fruit, both resulting in good sizing and flavor. Additionally, removing excess weight prevents branches from breaking, and having evenly sized fruit results in fewer harvest passes through the field, reducing labor costs.
As mentioned above, tree fruit orchards are undergoing thinning at this time. Our table grape vineyards are in the shoot development stage of growth. This week’s forecast shows warmer days with no likelihood of precipitation.