Monday, February 16, 2015

The first Medjool palms came to the United States in 1927 when Walter Swingle, an American botanist brought 11 shoots from Morocco to Nevada.  Many of the palms in Morocco had contracted Bayoud, an ephiphytic fungal disease that has no cure and has caused epidemic proportions of loss. In just one century, more than 12 million palms in Morocco and 3 million in Algeria have been lost to this disease. The spread continues to advance, relentlessly to the east.  

Walter nursed these 11 shoots and it is from these that all of the Medjool palms in the US have been engendered.  You may have noticed my lack of reference to Palm "Trees", as technically they are not.  They are monocots.

Nels Rodgers began growing dates in Yuma, AZ in 1990.  Today the family grows 8,000 palms on 130 acres.  Nels oldest son Jason is our tour guide today.  He left his chiropractor business in New York in 2008 after his father developed throat cancer.  He stayed on after his father's recovery and now handles food safety, marketing and leads visitors on farm tours.  

I buckle up my brain and try to hold on tight, as my field learning is about to begin.

Three things are needed to grow dates;  a hot, dry climate and lots of water.  Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it?

I'm not surprised to hear that every aspect of the production cycle is controlled, including pollination.  I am surprised however, that they visit each palm a dozen or more times throughout the cycle.  That's 96,000+ monocot visits! 

A male sheath from which pollen is collected
A palm is either male or female.  In late February sheaths on the male palms begin to open.  The pollen is collected, "bottled" and used to hand pollinate the flowers of the female palm.
Pollen is "dusted" onto female
flowers from a water bottle

Each female palm is pollinated at least 3 times as the flower are open for only 5 days and at different times. 

Around April or May, fruit begins to bud on the strands and the palms are visited again for thinning.  Each bunch of strands are opened up and the middle cut out, leaving only the outside strands.  Each strand is thinned further, removing every other bud allowing for large fruit to grow.  Talk about labor intensive!

Late July, early August, the palms are visited again and covered with a cotton bag to protect the dates from birds and insects as well as catch any fruit that's ripen prior to date harvest.

Harvest occurs multiple times throughout the hottest months of August and September where temperatures can reach 120 degrees.  It is then, that each palm requires 180 gal of water per day, supplied via wells and pumps.   

Young palms produce off-shoots which are tied, dug up and transplanted into large containers for farm expansion or sale.

Date Palm Thorn
The palms are visited one last time as thorns need to be removed  to provide safe access for next year's production.

Although high in sugar content, dates are low on the glycemic index.  According to the "Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, ” dates contain beta-D-glucan, a special kind of soluble fiber that’s particularly efficient at reducing high cholesterol levels. This type of fiber also helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which your small intestine absorbs glucose. 

Honest to goodness, I will never look at my date the same way again!  Not only good looking, he's got a lot more content than I ever gave him credit for.

Err...good thing, as I purchased 12 pounds of them.  Did I mention, they can be frozen?


  1. Wow! Lots of nutritional news I did not know. I treat them like a forbidden fruit! But I have often wondered about how the Arabs use them extensively, seemingly without many of the health problems we have. (they certainly have their own set, like lead bullets and explosives!)

    Thanks so much for sharing!!! I wait each day for your pronouncements! jdy

  2. Funny you mention the Arabs. Martha's Gardens is seeing an increase in requests for dates from Muslim organizations which use them to break the fast of Ramadan. Apparently Prophet Mohammad's recommendation, along with the Bayoud fungus has caused more of a demand for dates in the states.