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How Weather Can Affect Stone Fruit

A mini heat wave is going on down in the San Joaquin Valley, where a lot of stone fruit is grown. Temperatures are averaging about 106 in the daytime with humidity but it feels like it 109. Although to keep it in perspective, July is the hottest month of the year with normal temperatures ranging around 99 and cooling down to the 60’s at night if they are lucky. The Southern tropical moisture from Mexico can push the night time temperatures up to the mid 70’s or 80’s.

Stone fruit needs the heat in the summer, in the low 90’s at a minimum, to mature and develop the brix or sugar content.  On the flip side too many hot days over 102 degrees in a row can put stress on the trees, slow down the ripening and delay harvesting.  The fruit also may not mature properly, be smaller than usual and even cause the tree to not be as productive next year.  If the tree doesn’t have a great canopy of leaves on it the fruit can even get sunburned.

Richard Burkart from Burkart Farmsin Dinuba says the best thing you can do is to be prepared for the hot weather.  He only starts worrying when the heat wave doesn’t look like it is going to stop.  He doesn’t let his trees get overly dry or too heavily watered before a heat wave which can put too much stress on the trees.   Richard also takes care of his employees and makes sure they are not out in the heat too long. They start picking as soon as the sun comes up and try to be done before 2pm at the latest, even though this may slow down his picking schedule. The key is to plan accordingly and not get too far behind if different varieties need to be picked and packed at the same time.  The hot afternoons will be spent packing under cover in the packing shed.

Burkart Farms Summer Bright nectarine and August Yummy Plum

There are times during the growing season that the temperatures may dip down into the 80’s but this usually only happens early on, during the middle of May and through the early part of June.  Lower temperatures can delay the ripening of the fruit and cause the starches and staple sugars to not rise up. Problems can really arise when temperatures rise quickly to the high 90’s after an extended period of low temperatures.  Stone fruit varieties can have split pits, ripen too quickly and the sugars are not developed or different varieties can ripen at the same time which means having to pick a higher volume than planned.

From the third week of June through August, the San Joaquin valley almost never sees temperatures in the 80’s. If it does happen it will only be for a day and the sugars are already there so the low temperatures won’t make a difference in the flavor or quality of the stone fruit.

All fruit once it is picked has an internal field heat temperature around 90-100 degrees.  The fruit needs to be cooled down to maintain the quality of the fruit from farm to your grocery store.   Richard puts his stone fruit first in the pre-cooling room for about 12-14 hours.  Fans pull air through the pallets and bring the temperature down to about 32 degrees.  Then the stone fruit is moved to the main cooler which is kept at 32 degrees until it is ready to be shipped out on temperature controlled trucks.

Stone fruit can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to ripen it on your kitchen counter. The varieties of stone fruit seem endless.  Earl’s is now selling Fire Pearl and Majestic Pearl White Nectarines; Kaweah and Summer Bright Yellow Nectarines; Diamond Princess, Donut, Elegant Lady and Zee Lady Yellow Peaches;  Glacier White and Summer Sweet White Peaches; Catalina, Friar, August Yummy and Hiromi Red Plums; Dapple Fire and Mariposa Plouts and Rival Apricots just to name a few.

Burkart Stone Fruit

Check Earl’s Facebook and Twitter pages for photos of stone fruit arriving at Earl’s every day.  Slice some stone fruit to put on top of your cereal or yogurt, bring a fruit salad to a picnic, bake a peach cobbler or grill some peaches drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  When you just can’t let summer go, try your hand at canning.

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