When you sink your teeth into the smooth, crimson skin of a Frog Hollow Farm nectarine, and juice is running down your chin, science is probably the last thing on your mind. But there’s quite a bit of science behind those moments of pure, sweet summer bliss.
Start at the end
A refractometer is a handy tool that farmers use to find brix, or the measure of sugar, in a ripe piece of fruit. A conventional piece of fruit registers about a 10 or 11 on the refractometer, 12 if you’re lucky.
Farmer Al doesn’t even start picking our fruit until brix readings are at 14 or 15. And most of our nectarine varieties are coming in around 18 to 22! That means a Frog Hollow Fruit nectarine is likely to be 50 percent sweeter than what’s commercially available.
Did you know that nectarines are peaches that lack the gene for fuzz? Farmer Al has always looked for high brix nectarine varieties to grow, and that’s a big part of our juicy success. He’s excited about this year’s crop – it’s going to be much better than last year’s, and there are new orchards coming into production. He’s looking forward to the harvest of our Candy Pearl and Majestic Pearl – two white nectarine varieties – in late June.
Enhancing the sugar
High brix varieties are a good place to start, and our location and farming methods push sugar content even higher. Nectarines need warm days and cool nights to flourish. We have both in Brentwood, with our location near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The temperature differential between the hot summer days and cool delta evenings helps make our fruit even sweeter.
We help Mother Nature along by using compost, and with our pruning and thinning methods. We also leave fruit on the tree to ripen longer, which allows the sugar to develop more fully.
An organic challenge
Growing organic nectarines is tough. Nectarine trees are very susceptible to thrips, an insect that grazes on fruit skin, scarring it. When the fruit grows, the scar becomes a big, ugly blemish on the skin. We control the thrips with an organic material that kills them. Brown rot is another threat – it’s a fungus. We use compost tea to control brown rot. Compost tea is difficult to make and use, and it requires precise planning and education. Another story for another time!
Simply put: We farm in the perfect place for nectarines, and we nurture the earth, the tree and the fruit to develop a full range of flavors. Grab a stack of napkins and a Frog Hollow Farm nectarine and have a great summer!