Some farmers harvest their crops all at once.
But Farmer Al has always sought the best flavor and peak ripeness. To deliver that, he doesn’t harvest everything all at once. He harvests when the time is right. That means watching our trees closely and going back to them several times.
Practice makes perfect
Farmer Al and the tree team plan to harvest each variety about three times. During the first harvest, they pick from the uppermost and outermost branches. The sun reaches those limbs first, so that’s where the early sugar develops.
Every variety has its own characteristics and color quirks. The team looks for background color and highlights. Background colors are the subtle yellows and golds. Highlights are the flashy colors, like crimson and orange.
The team moves quickly – they have many acres to cover and the trees won’t wait!
During the second harvest, the team is distinguishing the ripe fruit from fruit that still needs a little more time. They’re looking for subtle changes in color. During the third harvest, they pick all the remaining ripe fruit.
The team harvests some varieties, like our Cal Red peaches and O’Henry peaches, five or six times. “That’s because I’m always trying to find the ripest, tastiest piece of fruit,” Farmer Al says.
Fruit trees have a mind of their own, and Farmer Al is still learning to read some varieties, even after more than 40 years of farming. Take our very flashy Zee Rich peaches, for example. Zee Rich has been bred to be brilliant red, with almost no background color. That makes timing the harvest difficult – there are no gradual color changes for the tree teams to monitor. Zee Rich ripens, seemingly overnight! Last week, Farmer Al checked them several times over a period of three days. They went from hard to overripe within 24 hours. We moved some of the fruit to the kitchen and some to the compost rows.
This is farming. It’s about watching, waiting, and learning from Mother Nature. Our reward is sweetness.