Once the ground is carefully staked, the young scions are planted in the future orchard. This orchard is set out a little like a chessboard, and the trees have sufficient space between them to grow in harmony, and to leave space for our machines. The variety, rootstock and health are certified in the nurseries by government-certified agencies. Plant protection is used to curb the enthusiasm of local rabbits and deer.
In order to grow beautiful, healthy plums, you need to prune the young saplings into shape (shaping), and then prune them a little more every year so that each fruit receives as much sun as possible in the ripening season (fructification pruning). Der Plum farmers prune their trees in winter. According to our estimates, between 80 and 100 hours per hectare are dedicated to this important work.
Whether for shaping or for production, pruning is a crucial operation and requires a great degree of skill. By reducing the volume of the branches, pruning helps :
- Ensure that the tree develops properly and does not grow superfluous branches,
- Enable sunlight to penetrate through the tree and ensure both correct ripening and better health,
- Reduce the number of plums on the tree for a more regular, higher quality (larger fruit) harvest and a better yield,
- Facilitate the application of spray treatment, improving the effectiveness with the same amount of product and reducing the number of treatments needed.
With the arrival of spring, the temperature starts to climb back up. This is the time that the trees start to blossom. Pollinating insects help fertilise the flowers, and bee hives are even moved into the orchards to speed up the process.
The trees and fruit need to be properly fed, and this requires a regular supply of water. Irrigation is used when the weather is dry and nature doesnt provide quite enough for the crops. Various irrigation techniques and carefully planned watering schedules help guarantee that our water is correctly managed, with only the quantity needed going into the orchards.
A good prune starts out as a properly ripened plum. The plums are traditionally picked between mid-August and mid-September, when the plums can be easily shaken off the trees.
By monitoring the sugar content and acidity of the fruit, producers can start the harvest at the perfect moment. And in order to only pick the ripest fruit, each plot is harvested an average of three or four times.
The harvesting process is now mechanised, using a refractometer.
This is faster and more productive, guaranteeing that the fruit picked is of a higher quality (fewer burst or split fruits).
This operation consists of dehydrating the Ente plums and transforming them into prunes. Once picked, the plums are transported across the farm, where they are washed, sorted (to remove any low-quality fruit) and graded by size into regular batches.
They are then spread over trays (fine food-grade stainless steel mesh stretched over a wooden frame) to be dried. These trays are then stacked on trolleys, which are moved into tunnels where the drying process can begin. These tunnels are equipped with powerful fans, enabling them to dry up to 11 tonnes of plums per day. You need between 3 and 3.5 kilos of fresh Ente plums and 20-24 hours in a dehydrator heated to 70 to 80°C to obtain 1kg of Agen prunes with a water content no higher than 23 %.
Once they are dried, its important to sort the prunes. By doing this, any split, damaged, stained or poorly dried fruit can be removed. This is generally done by hand on a sorting table or on the drying trays before they go into storage.
The prunes are stored on the farm before being sold to the processing companies who pack and sell them. They are stored in palox crates (plastic or wood pallet crates) lined with large food-grade polyethylene bags. They are then moved into an appropriate storage space, ideally protected from the light, and with a constant temperature and humidity.