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|
|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.
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?