Date Palms are unique in that they are either a male tree or a female tree. The male trees produce pollen, and the female trees produce flowers.
Unfortunately, neither birds nor bees are attracted to the flowers, so the females have to be hand pollinated.
During the later part of February we begin to watch for the sheaths on the male trees to begin splitting open. We check each tree every single day. As soon as a sheath on a male tree begins to open, it is tied with string to hold it together, and removed from the tree.
Here you get a much better view of the pollen because the sheath is split wide open. Once the sheath on the male tree opens, we will cut the whole sheath out of the tree, and then hang it upside down to dry. Once the pollen has dried to a very fine powder, we sift it into a large air-tight container for storage.
A male sheath that has been removed from the tree. Notice the small split where it is starting to break open. This sheath probably weighs close to 10 pounds.
The female trees have the same kind of sheath, and as they begin to flower, we will remove the sheath and separate each strand. We then tie the strands together and hand pollinates the flowers using the fresh pollen that we have collected from the male trees. We use a small ketchup squirt bottle for this process. We pollinate each female tree at least three times.
Around April or May, as the fruit begins to “bud” on the strands, we will begin the thinning process.
First, we open up each bunch of strands that we have tied together, and cut out the middle, leaving only the outside strands. Then we remove about 90% of the dates from each strand. This allows better air flow and the chance for each individual date to grow to its optimum size.
It is not unusual for the temperatures to be above 100 degrees during May when we are thinning and closer to 120 degrees during the date harvest, so most of our date workers will wear long sleeved shirts and long pants, and cover their faces with bandannas to protect themselves from both the sun and the heat.
This is a strand of Midol Dates before being thinned. By removing the majority of the dates, the ones that are left will have enough room to grow to a March larger size.