By Kurt Nolte
• The Yuma area grows about 3,000 acres of dates and acreage is increasing.
• In the Yuma area, dates ripen from late September through December.
• Commercial fruit production is possible only where there is a long, hot growing season with daily maximum temperatures of 90 degrees and virtually no rain —less than 1/2 inch during the fall ripening season. The date palm must have full sun, it will not produce fruit in the shade. The date can tolerate long periods of drought. But for heavy bearing, it has a high water requirement.
• Native to Arabia and North Africa, dates from the earliest times have been a principal food in many desert and tropical regions.
• Medjool dates were introduced to the desert Southwest after some healthy offshoots were brought to the U.S. in the early 1900s in an effort to save the species from extinction as a result of a disease that was killing the trees in their native Morocco.
• Now the descendants of the Moroccan transplants in the Yuma area produce millions of pounds of Medjool dates each season that are sold all over the world.
• The trees sometimes reach a height of 100 feet and yield fruit for generations. About 300 pounds of fruit can be harvested from one date palm tree.
• Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees, and pollination of those grown commercially is usually done by hand. The fruit clusters are covered with paper bags to shelter them from rain, dust and predators.
• Dates are a fresh fruit, not a dried fruit. Each fruit is 1 to 3 inches long, reddish brown or yellowish brown, and somewhat cylindrical or oblong.
• Dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be seeded and stuffed, or chopped and used in a great variety of ways: on cereal, in pudding, bread, cakes, cookies, ice cream, or candy bars.
• An average date has 23 calories and no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
• Dates may be stored at room temperature for up to two months, or in the refrigerator for up to one year, or in the freezer for several years.
• The wood of the trunk is sometimes used in construction and the leaves are used for weaving mats and baskets.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904. For additional information please visit https://extension.arizona.edu/yuma.