Not many of us look at palm trees and immediately think of growing dates and yet, this episode may change that for you! Palm trees are usually on beaches, so seeing acres of them in grid patterns opens up a lot of questions. Luckily, I found the right place in the Coachella Valley just outside of Palm Springs to get all my questions answered — Hadley’s Date Gardens where Albert Keck was ready to show me around. And some of the trees I saw have been in the valley for 80-100 years — that’s a lot of jam, cookies, energy bars, etc!
The AI transcript for this episode is available.
Dates are on More Shopping Lists & Menus
The push for taste and nutrition in our diets means dates are a popular item these days. While farmers like Albert may prefer to eat them whole right off the trees, there are lots of possibilities out there.
A favorite for me is definitely on the culinary side stuffing the date with a soft cheese (usually cream cheese) and wrapping it in bacon but I had a date shake on my way out to meet Albert and it was wow good! And I’m trying to convince him to share the recipe for oatmeal-pecan-date cookies!
They deliver some great nutrition — lots of potassium, fiber and heart healthy vitamins and minerals. A lot of people are probably eating dates in their energy bars whether they know it or not because dates add natural sugars and carbohydrates. All of that is why that shake was a perfect way to refresh on a hot afternoon in the desert during my trip.
Farming Date Palm Trees
The importance of working trees is common in a lot of perennial fruits and nuts, but the structure of date palms certainly puts some spins on working orchards (often called date gardens) when it comes to all of the fruit being produced quite a distance from the ground.
In fact, palmeros (a Spanish word for the farmworkers who go up in the trees to work) are needed year-round as there are a number of jobs to be done in the trees while many other fruit & nut crops are likely to hire temporary workers. Palmeros are specialized as they gain experience and become adept at working at the heights day-to-day. They do ongoing safety training, as well as equipment inspections for the things that assist them. And while touring Hadley’s, I had the chance to see some of that happening in real time. It was clear that the Hadley’s team all works together.
What are the jobs palmeros do in growing dates?
Palmeros go up every tree half a dozen times in a year. That’s every tree and as you can see in the video, there are a lot of trees in a garden or orchard!
- In January and February they go up the trees to clear away any of the remaining fruiting branches from the previous fall harvest. They also take these huge thorns off the trees newest fronds (palm leaves) that sprout from the center.
- March and April are when trees are pollinated. That means workers go up the few male trees to collect pollen and up female trees to pollinate flowers that will turn into dates. Sure nature uses wind to do this but by planting more female trees and judiciously using the pollen, it gives commercial farmers a much bigger yield. And in a world where margins are so slim, that can make a big difference! So much so they make two trips up each female tree to ensure as much pollination as possible.
- The months of May and June, palmeros will check for dates setting on the tree and may need to help balance the load some as well as create supports from the growing fruit load by tying bunches to the nearby fronds.
- In July and August, those green dates are really taking shape and the team goes up the trees to put silk bags over each bunch to keep insects and birds from getting the fruit as it ripens. That’s what they were doing when I visited so photos/video on that are coming!
- And harvest starts in September!
Touring a Date Farm
When I first talked to Albert, I walked through the time needed like I do with all my guests. Discussing the need to capture clear audio for the podcast as well as get a chance to look at the farm and capture video. I asked for a 30 minute tour knowing how many things farmers balance, but we were having such a good conversation and seeing so many things that made me ask questions. Next thing I knew I had monopolized most of his morning! When I mentioned knowing he was busy, he laughed saying he was enjoying getting around the farm, touching base with the crew, etc and that I was “stuck with him.”
We had a chance to see date orchards at various stages of growth and development. We saw pups that were cut off younger trees to go to the nursery. Date gardens that have been planted in the last couple of years and are nearing production as well as trees nearing the century mark in age and no longer producing (they will soon be replaced). But my favorite by far was watching Rodolpho work a tree.
Get More Info & Stay Connected!
You may want to check out the website for Hadley’s Date Garden. The page on the farm’s roots has a few great old photos as well as video with Albert. If you want to purchase some of the Hadley’s dates, Albert suggests you look at local retailers. They are available in several places like Costco. You can buy them through Amazon but Albert points out the prices there tend to be higher since it’s not direct from the farm.
We love talking about a different food and farm topic every two weeks for the podcast. And it’s wild how that has built a library up! You can probably find a favorite food in our previous episodes or maybe you’d just like to wander around the map to see something close by. You can subscribe to get emails on future episodes from the website, listen to the podcast in your favorite app and connect with us on social media. In fact, if you find a platform we aren’t on, please let us know so we can add it!