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Until yesterday, I never knew how (or where) dates were grown or how they were harvested. I was particularly interested in visiting Imperial Date Gardens as I have been incorporating dates regularly into my diet as they are quite delicious and are rich in potassium, iron and fiber.

Growing and harvesting dates is quite labor-intensive. Date palms are dioecious, the male flowers that produce pollen and the female flowers that produce fruit are borne on separate trees. The pollination is done by hand, and the floral bunches tied and trained for direction of growth.

Thinning of the fruit is also done by hand while the fruit is quite young. To ensure their large size, the Medjool date is thinned once more at a slightly mature stage; leaving only about 10% of the original fruit for harvest.

The final step prior to harvesting is done by slipping a bag over the bunch. The bag, after being tied at both ends, protects the fruit from light rains, bugs and birds.

The harvest of the Medjool starts in late August and runs through early November. The dates ripen at different times so three to four trips up the palm tree are required. The dates are hand-picked and placed in a shallow canvas basket to minimize bruising of this soft date, then later transfered to protective trays. After being hand-sorted, the dates are either packed immediately or sun-ripened to a perfect rich brown-ebony color, as well as a precise 30% moisture content.

The Medjool is the gourmet date and unquestionably the largest, meatiest and most flavorful variety. Yet, they are surprisingly low in calories, only 49 per date. The Imperial Date Garden Medjools contain absolutely no pesticides or preservatives. They contain no cholesterol and almost no fat or sodium. Medjools possess invert sugars, which is important for those who cannot tolerate sucrose in their diet.

Dates are delicious when eaten fresh or added to muffins, cookies and salads. Dip them in chocolate or roll them in coconut for a classic dessert. Serve them as hors d’oeuvres by spreading them with cream cheese or peanut butter.

Today, we enjoyed fresh date milkshakes; a real treat in this hot weather! As I sat outside enjoying my shake, I watched many people come and go, buying many large boxes of these little jewels.

Below are a few shots of other native plants in the area: