December 14 (Thursday)
Today we headed north of Yuma. We wanted to stop in at Martha's Gardens date farm to see about a tour of their operation. Unfortunately their morning tour was full and the afternoon one was cancelled. In fact it is a bit hit and miss trying to get on one of their tours. You put your name beside a date and if they get ten people they run the tour, but you have to phone the day before to see if your requested tour date will actually happen. Seemed a bit too complicated so we watched the video and talked to their staff and bought a book on the Medjool Dates. I think we get the idea.
|Their date palms are a variety of sizes/ages.|
The date is one of the oldest cultured tree crops, with records showing that in Mesopotamia, it was cultivated more than 5,000 years ago. This valuable food helped sustain desert peoples and nomadic wanderers of the Middle East and North Africa. Dates were also considered a delicacy and served by royalty for countless generations. Medjool dates are the gourmet variety, and for many years savored only by the elite. The date was introduced to the western hemisphere by Spanish missionaries, who planted date seeds around the missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A few of the original palms or their off shoots are still found in Southern California and Mexico. There were many varieties imported in the following years, but the most significant was the Medjool date. The Medjool originates in Morocco. It was introduced into the United States in 1927; the eleven original shoots were placed in quarantine for seven years in the state of Nevada. Nine plants survived, and in 1935 they were located to Southern California. Twenty-four off shoots of those original trees were planted in the Bard Valley, in 1944, by Stanley Dillman, date pioneer in the region.
Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm was founded in 1990 by Nels Rogers and his wife Martha. The farm originated on a parcel of desert land on the Yuma Mesa overlooking Yuma’s beautiful Gila Valley, located 10 miles east of downtown Yuma.
In the beginning of operations, the Rogers family cleared the previously unused desert land in preparation for planting the Medjool date palms. After clearing the land was completed, wells were drilled and a drip irrigation system was installed to irrigate the palms on a year round basis. Date production requires a large amount of water, even though date palms are a desert plant and can survive drought conditions.
The original planting consisted of 300 Medjool date palm off-shoots and the Rogers family farm today has roughly 8000 palms planted on over 100 acres. Each year the family has the opportunity to plant additional acreage by removing the young offshoots that are produced naturally as clones of themselves by the adult female palms.
Martha’s Gardens began their harvesting of Medjool dates in 1999. Date farming is a very labor intensive type of farming. Dates require a 6 month growing season that begins in the spring and ends in the summer. Several steps are required from beginning to end to ensure a successful crop, and the work required to be performed is all hands-on.
The steps involved to bring dates to harvest are very labour intensive.
- Dethorn the treetops. The thorns are so sharp they can pierce a tire. (January/February)
- Pollen pods are harvested from the male palm trees. (February)
- Female trees are pollinated by hand. (February/March)
- Training the fruit arms to hang down and thinning. Removing old fronds. (March/April)
- Thinning the fruit. A fruit arm will produce 6000 - 9000 dates per arm, but ideally they want 600 - 800 so the dates grow large. The fruit arms need to be trimmed and thinned. (mid-April - early-June)
- Ringing and bagging. Metal rings are installed on the fruit arms to spread the growing dates apart. Ideally dates should not touch each other, as well as provide air ventilation around the date. Mesh bags with open bottoms are installed on the fruit arm to protect the dates and prepare the tree for harvest. (June/July)
- The bags are closed and harvest begins. Dates mature at different times so there are usually three 'pickings'. The fruit arms are gently shaken and ripe dates fall into the mesh bag. The bottom of the bag is opened and the harvested dates fall into baskets and lowered to the ground. The process is repeated twice more (September/mid-October)
- Dates are sorted, graded and packed for distribution. Mature trees (~20 years old) can produce 200 pounds of dates per year. Trees can continue to produce dates for 70 years.
- The old fruit arms are removed from the trees and mulched to fertilize the Date palms.
|These are for sale. I was tempted. :-)|
|They have 300 acres of palms.|
|The small 'sucker' trees around the base of their mother. They cut those and nurse them for use on their farm.|
|The grounds are very nice.|
So that's the story of the Madjool Date. While learning about them we enjoyed a date shake. Highly recommended. Just one more way to enjoy the healthy benefits of the date. (Milkshake? Healthy? Works for me!)
We headed further north to see how the vegetable harvest was coming along. Every day hundreds of field workers are bussed out to the fields to pick vegetables, or hoe. It must be back-breaking work.
|The crew is bused to the field. They are self-contained. Notice the trailer behind the bus. It hauls porta-pottis and wash stations.|
These fields grow lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other vegetables.
|Pickers in the fields.|
|Tubs of broccoli.....freshly harvested.|
|Once the crop is harvested work begins on tilling, leveling, adding the irrigation channels, and then sowing the new crop.|
|Lettuce. Three shades!|
|Nothing would grow here without a dependable water supply.|
We decided to keep on going north on the Mittry Lake road. Lots of boondockers here.
|Very pretty Mittry Lake.|
|Facilities at Mittry Lake|
|That faint row of white objects.....boondocker RV's over at Senator Wash in California.|
I had heard about the Senator Wash LTVA area so we crossed into California and drove up the road. Lots and lots of RV's of every description. We stopped at the Camp Host office to get some information. We may actually spend a few days in this area in early February. I had a nice chat with the older couple that were on duty this afternoon. They explained the fees (14 day camping permit is $40, the 6 month permit is $180). ……and gave me some information on rattlesnakes that inhabit the area. Yikes!
|A very pretty area.|
Squaw Lake Rec area is just across the dam. Very nice spot.
|Gambel's Quail in all his finery!|
Some great sunsets here the last couple of nights!
And that was........Our View From Here!