Follow the journey your favorite summer fruits take to get from our farms to your table. Our peaches and nectarines, and the majority of our apricots, are certified organic and grown by fourth generation fruit farmers, the Douglas family. Find out how natural farming methods produce summer fruits that burst with flavors as you follow peaches, nectarines and apricots through the growing season.
Where We Farm Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots
- Our stone fruit is grown primarily in south central Washington where tributaries from three major rivers (the Columbia, Snake and Yakima) meet.
- The southern latitude of areas like Pasco and Mattawa makes these locales warmer than most in Washington State and absolutely ideal for growing summer fruits
- Four true growing seasons in Washington also lend well to growing large and flavorful summer fruits.
- Long, hot summer days followed by cool nights are prevalent across central Washington. The warm days build the fruit’s sugars and size, while cool nights bring out vibrant colors and protect the fruit’s stone, or pit.
How Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots Are Grown
- Growing flavorful peaches, nectarines and apricots organically starts with selecting the best varieties for each orchard site.
- Stemilt chooses varieties that have great flavors and will ripen at different times in order to harvest fruit continuously for several months.
- The winter season initiates the start of the next crop. That’s when cold temperatures put trees into a deep sleep. This resting state (known as dormancy) helps trees gain energy for the busy growing season ahead.
- Pruning also takes place in the winter to help manage the crop load for next year
- Apricots are the first fruit trees to bloom in the spring, usually in March. Peaches and nectarines follow soon after.
- During spring bloom, growers monitor weather closely to protect against frost, and also welcome bees into the orchard to pollinate blossoms that will become new fruits
- Cold spring nights can reduce the crop through a natural thinning of the fruitlets, which helps assure that the fruit has nice sizing.
- Summer is harvest season for apricots, peaches and nectarines. We start with apricots in mid-June. Peach harvest and nectarine harvest starts in mid-July.
- In the fall, leaves shed from the trees and compost is applied to trees.
Organic Summer Fruits
- Our entire crop of peaches and nectarines (and over 60% of our apricots) are farmed and certified organic!
- Organic farming is a huge commitment, but one that we are passionate about.
- Our ideal growing location and rich soil makes it possible for us to farm summer fruits like peaches, nectarines and apricots organically. Low pest levels can be controlled by natural practices, like placing pheromone traps in orchards to disrupt mating patterns of known pests.
- Harvesting summer fruit once it is tree-ripened assures the best eating experience for our Artisan Organics™ peaches and nectarines.
Summer Fruit Blossom: Busy Bees and Beautiful Trees
- Apricots are the first of any of our fruits to bloom in Washington State. They often bloom while winter snows are still melting on the surrounding hills.
- Full bloom for apricots in Washington State is in mid-March.
- Apricot blossoms have white petals with a crimson center.
Peaches & Nectarines
- Peaches and nectarines bloom after apricots, and just before cherries, apples and pears.
- Full bloom for peaches and nectarines in Washington State is in early April.
- Bright pink blossoms adorn peach and nectarine trees during bloom.
- Just like other fruit trees, the buds that bloom and become new fruits developed right after harvest the prior year.
- Bloom moves from southern latitudes to northern latitudes within the state, and different varieties will bloom at slightly different times.
- Growers have a good idea for when peaches and nectarines will harvest once their trees have bloomed.
Protecting Bloom from Springtime Weather
Bloom is an important time in the orchard, and spring weather and frost is dangerous to blossoms. The following is how our growers protect bloom in an orchard:
- Fore over a century, propane, natural gas, kerosene or oil heaters have all been used to protect orchards.
- The cost of fuel makes this a pricey way to defend an orchard.
- These are rarely used in Washington orchards nowadays, with the exception of early crops like apricots and early cherry locations.
- Frost protection often comes from wind machines that have blades spinning above the orchard.
- The movement of air by the fan blades prevents stagnant cold air pockets from settling at the tree level and killing the blossoms, which bear the crop.
- A single wind machine can protect up to 10 acres of orchards.
- The fan is typically powered by an industrial engine delivering 100 horsepower or more.
- Overhead irrigation is another common method of frost/freeze protection.
- Heat is released as water, which changes to ice, which keeps the orchards warmer than freezing. If supplied at an adequate rate, the water will keep the temperature of the plant at or near 32 ° F.
- Advantages of overhead irrigation include: lower operating cost, convenience of operation, and multiple uses including drought prevention and heat suppression in the warmer months.
Pollination with Bees
- Bees are essential in growing new apricots, peaches and nectarines, as they pollinate the blossoms on different summer fruit trees each spring. Growers set out beehives when flowers just start to open. The hives are usually rented and kept on location for 4-5 days.
- Bees prefer to forage within 300 feet of their hive, so there are usually 1-2 beehives per acre of orchards during bloom. In addition to bees, growers need pollinizer trees to help set the crop. Bees quickly work to transfer pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma of the same or other flowers to set or pollenize blossoms.
- After pollination set occurs, a new apricot, peach or nectarine develops and begins to grow.
- Cold, wet or windy weather can cause poor pollination and eventually reduce the expected apple crop in an orchard.
- Stemilt’s Washington-grown apricots are harvested fresh daily from late June through July.
- The majority of our apricots come from orchards that farm organically (and are certified organic).
- Harvest timing is based on the orchard location and the apricot variety that was planted there.
- The timing of spring bloom and the weather that follows it gives us an idea of when apricots will be ready to come off the tree.
- Like other summer fruits, each apricot is hand-picked from the tree. The crew member gently grabs the fruit and twists it slightly to take it off the tree.
- A crew member picks apricots into small lugs and then transfers a full lug to a larger bin.
- Full bins of apricots are loaded onto trucks and taken to our nearby facility to be packed.
- Stemilt’s organic peaches are harvested fresh daily in Washington State from mid-July to mid-September.
- Like other fruits, the timing of peach harvest is determined by the orchard location and variety planted there.
- Peach trees may be picked several times, as the fruit ripens at different stages based on the amount of sunlight it receives.
- Crew members pick peaches by hand by gently holding the fruit and twisting it off the tree.
- Peaches are placed into picking bags, which are transferred to a large bin once full.
- The bins are transferred onto trucks and taken to our facility nearby where the fruit is received and packed.
- Organic nectarines are harvested daily in Washington State from mid-July to mid-September. They come off the tree at the same time as our organic peaches.
- Stemilt determines when to harvest nectarines by checking the quality of the fruit in the field prior to harvest. Bloom dates also tell us when to expect to harvest the fruit.
- There are many varieties of nectarines, each with their own unique harvest date. The orchard location is yet another factor in when fruit will harvest (southern locations harvest first, followed by northern locations).
- Just like peaches, nectarines may be picked several times from the same tree since the fruit ripens on the tree at different times.
- Each nectarine is hand-picked from the tree. A crew member holds the fruit and gently twists it to take it off the tree.
- Nectarines are placed into picking bags, which is transferred by the crew member to a large bin once full.
- Bins of nectarines are taken by truck to our nearby packing facility.
How Stemilt Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots Are Packed
After harvest, sweet and juicy summer fruits like peaches, nectarines and apricots are just a short packing trip away from your stores. Because most of our summer fruits are organic, we must follow additional guidelines for packing organic fruit. We have a dedicated packing line for our organic summer fruits located at the Douglas family’s facility in Pasco, Washington. These are the steps we take to pack peaches, nectarines and apricots:
Step 1: Fruit Bin Dump
- The first step in packing is to “dump” bins of fruit onto the packing line. The dumping process is actually quite gentle so the fruit is not damaged.
- Water assists the dumping process, which further decreases bruises and abrasions.
Step 2: Washing and Drying Fruit
- Summer fruits are rinsed, washed with a food-grade soap, and then rinsed again to remove any field dust from the fruit. For organic fruit, the soap must be certified organic too.
- Now clean, the fruit is dried with a blower and fans to completely remove any remaining water.
Step 3: Sorting Fruit for Quality
- Next, fruit is sorted manually on the line.
- Experienced sorters remove fruit with obvious defects before additional handling takes place.
- This saves time and energy from running poor-quality fruit through our packing equipment.
Step 4: Fruit Sizing, Sorting and Stickering
- The fruit continues down the packing line, where it will be automatically sorted and sized.
- A high-speed camera takes several photos of the fruit and sends the images to a computer. The computer has software that analyzes the images and automatically sorts and sizes the fruit by relaying which packing lane the fruit will be packed from.
- A price look-up (PLU) sticker is applied to the fruit to help retail clerks easily ring up the fruit. Remember, certified organic fruit has a leading “9” in front of the four digits.
Step 5: Fruit is Packed
- The final step in packing peaches, nectarines or apricots is to pack the fruit. Hand packing is the primary method, although there is some automation in packing summer fruits.
- Stemilt uses bags, clamshells and bulk trays to pack summer fruits. The bags and clamshells are packed into a master carton.
- Each finished carton is stamped with important information about the origin of the fruit, the variety, pack date, size, grade and grower number. This helps in product traceability.
- Boxes of fruit are palletized and then put back into cold rooms to await shipment on refrigerated trucks.