Growing & Harvesting
In the Orchard
Most California Prunes are of the improved French prune variety. This variety produces plums that are specifically developed to become prunes. When California Prune growers plant a prune plum tree, they have to wait four to six years before they see their labour bear fruit – litreally!
Even then, a tree needs eight to 12 years before it reaches a full production capacity of 150 to 300lbs (70-90kgs) of raw fruit per year. At that point, an orchard will produce about 20-30 years of commercial productivity of prune production.
Winter Rest to Summer Sun
The prune tree is deciduous, which means that it is dormant during winter months. However, just before it enters this phase, the growers have the chance to carry out some essential maintenance by hand. Hand pruning helps to regulate tree shape, control fruit size, and maintain healthy growth. It also ensures that only the most perfect, premium prunes are ultimately harvested for all to enjoy.
When spring comes, thousands of acres of California Prune orchards are covered in a fragrant canopy of white blossoms. In as little as a week, the blossoms drift to the ground and the orchards’ palette shifts to a deep chartreuse as new fruit forms and leaf buds burst.
During the summer, farmers often irrigate their orchards. Due to advanced agricultural technology, they can provide precise water levels only when needed and where necessary in the orchard.
The Time is Ripe
By mid-August, the orchards are ready for harvest — a job that usually takes about 30 days. California Prunes are tree-ripened, so farmers determine harvest time by checking fruit firmness and sugar content with a tool called a light refractometer. To deliver consistent top-quality fruit, harvesting today is largely done by machines. A mechanical shaker grabs a tree’s main limb or its trunk and, in a matter of seconds, shakes the fruit onto a catching frame underneath. From there, it’s a quick conveyor ride to storage containers where the fruit is ready for drying.
Dried, Packed and Ready to Go
There is no time wasted in transferring freshly harvested fruit to the dryers, where three lbs of fresh fruit become one pound of California Prunes. After thorough washing and placement on large wooden trays, the fruit is dehydrated in a sequence of scientifically determined, fully automated, and strictly hygienic operations that maximise efficiency while protecting product quality. This intricate system of drying was actually developed and perfected by California Prune growers themselves.
The prunes rest in climate-controlled tunnels for precise periods of time and at exacting dehydration levels. From the dehydrator, the prunes go to state-of-the-art packing plants, where trained personnel inspect them, grade them for size, and store them ahead of final processing and packaging. There they remain in cool storage facilities, until needed for further processing.
Unlike the majority of processed fruits, most California Prunes are packed to order. At that point, they are rehydrated, sterilised, inspected one last time, and packaged for shipping.