The Process Of Growing Dates

  • Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree that is grown through hand pollination.
  • Thinning the date palm trees helps their fruits reach their optimum size.
  • Watering and proper irrigation help nurture the date trees until they are ready for harvest.
  • Dates are harvested multiple times in one season (late August to September) as they don’t ripen at once.
  • To get a consistent quality of tree and fruit, farmers grow and replant date pups (offshoots) from date palm trees.

 

Dates are the sweet edible fruit of the date palm. Date palms are trees that belong to the palm family. Due to its ability to treat various diseases, this fruit is a valuable natural medicinal resource. Today, we are about to look into the process of growing dates. Spoiler alert! The answer will likely surprise you. In fact, it is not as easy as you think it is. 

 

Pollination of dates

Female date palms require hand pollination. This is because their flowers neither attract bees nor birds. Both male and female date palms produce flowers. However, the pollen from the flower of male trees is necessary for the tree to bear fruit. Date growers typically harvest male flowers within 24 hours after the spathe splits open. This is done to avoid losing pollen.

In late February, the sheaths on male date palms start to split open. Because of this, the growers need to check each tree every day. When the sheaths on male trees start opening, growers will tie them using a string. After that, they cut them off from the tree. The growers then dry them by hanging the sheaths upside down. After drying the pollen into a fine powder, growers will store them in an air-tight container. 

As for the female trees, the growers remove the sheath. They also segregate every strand as they start to bear flowers. Then, they tie the strands together. Finally, they use the fresh pollen from the male trees to hand pollinate the flowers. For this process, some growers use a squirt bottle to spread the pollen. They repeat this process at least three times.

 

Thinning date palm trees

Growers start the process of thinning around April or May. This is when dates begin to bud on the tree’s strands. Thinning dates involve the following steps:

  • Opening the bunch of strands – Growers open each bunch of strands that are tied together. Then, they cut the middle to leave only the outside strands.
  • Removing dates from the strands – Growers remove around 60% of the dates from every strand. This is done for better airflow. This step also allows each date to grow into its optimum size.

Thinning dates usually happen around April and May. During these months, it is not uncommon for the temperature to reach more than 100 degrees. The time of harvest is even hotter, reaching about 120 degrees. For this reason, most of the workers wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and bandannas. This attire helps protect them against the heat from the sun.

 

Watering and irrigating date trees

Date trees require as much water as a willow tree. However, they are not good with humidity and rain. They grow in areas with temperatures above 20 degrees. The maximum temperatures in those areas are about 120 degrees.

Date palms also grow well when their surroundings are clear of weeds and grass. This is because other plants near it may cause humidity. Growers make special borders in the surroundings of the dates tree. This is done for flood irrigation. It also collects the water at the tree’s root. Every date palm tree needs around 60,000 gallons of water yearly. However, this should only be taken in at its roots. The borders help conserve water. It also helps remove weeds and grass around the grove.

 

Growing new date palm trees through date pups

Most date palm growers grow their trees from date pups. These are offshoots from the parent tree. This method allows them to produce the same quality of date palm trees and fruits.

The date palm pups are not readily transplanted. In fact, it takes around 6 to 8 years to grow them. It requires another 6 to 7 years before they start bearing fruit.

Some growers separate date pups from the parent tree. This is done using a backhoe with a special chisel to make things easier. When the pups are re-planted, their leaves will have a flat top cut. These are covered in cardboard to keep the heart secure. Constant water flowing via a drip irrigation system also keeps them hydrated.

 

Harvesting dates

Dates are ready for picking between late August and September. Not all of the fruits ripen at the same time. Because of this, harvesting is done many times throughout the season. A single date palm tree can produce around 200 to 300 pounds of date fruits per year.

Many date growers utilize ladders to harvest dates. However, others use more advanced methods to reach the fruit easier. For instance, some date farms use forklifts to pick ripe dates.

Date fruit goes through a long process before making its way to your table. From pollination to the watering date palm, growing dates is not easy. Learning about the process provides you with a good idea of how they are grown. It also lets you know that this fruit doesn’t require artificial ways to nurture and bear fruit. For this reason, you can now enjoy eating this healthy treat without any worries.

Summary

The process of growing dates is fascinating. This healthy fruit comes from a date palm tree that is grown by hand pollination. To allow the fruits to reach their optimum size, each tree undergoes the thinning process. They should also get the right amount of water and proper irrigation. With careful execution of each step and the right conditions, growers expect to harvest sweet and healthy dates from late August to September.

Scientific Information

  • Spathe –  a large sheathing bract covering the flower cluster of particular plants, especially the spadix of palms and arums.
  • Pollen –  a substance with a fine, powdery texture, usually yellow, with microscopic grains produced from a male cone or male part of a flower.
Written by:
Ryan Gen Cabebe
Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian

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