In the area between Jericho and the northern part of the Westbank there are an estimated 150.000 date palm trees on 20.000 dunum of land (2000 hectare / 5000 acre). Worldwide there are about 600 different varieties. The most famous one in Palestine is the medjool date. The name in Arabic means ‘unknown’, because it is unknown where this date tree originated. The other well known date that grows in Palestine is the Barhi date, named after hot wind. The date palm trees grow very well in the Jordan valley, because of its hot and dry climate and its high oxygen level, being several hundred meters below sea level.
Date palm trees
The origins of the palm tree are from the Persian and Arabian gulf. Cultivation of the date palm trees started around 6000 BC.
Date palm trees can get about 100 years old before they die. The first fifteen years are the most productive years. The date palm trees grow up to around 23 meters (75 feet) and they have big palm leaves with big thorns that are poisonous. It is very important that the workers who climb up in the palm trees to pollinate and to harvest, are very careful not to touch the thorns. The thorns are 8 to 10 centimeters long and they can easily pierce through a tractor tire.
There are female and male palm trees. The male hormone is used for pollination. For the medjool date palm trees, the pollination has to be done manually. Each male tree can pollinate about 40 to 50 female palm trees. The other kinds of date palm trees are pollinated naturally, by bees. The dates come only from the female date trees.
From pollination to harvest of date palm trees
Pollination is done in March. When the pollination was successful, small green buds will start to form that will grow bigger and become yellowish and later turn brownish in color. The dates grow on strains that hang down in clusters from the tree. When ripe, they are harvested manually. The farmers and the workers do not shake the trees. The dates are very soft when they are ripe and they have to be handled with great care. For the harvest the workers use muslin bags that are carefully wrapped around the cluster. The workers climb up in the tree on ladders and harvest with buckets. The harvest time is in September and October.
From one tree you can harvest between 70 to 100 kilos. You can harvest different sizes from the same tree, from the smallest to the super Jumbo. The official classification for the dates is based on the amount of air inside the fruit and the weight. The super Jumbo, the biggest one, is class one and should weigh more than 30 grams. The air should be less than 0.5%
Jamileh dates in Auja
For this podcast episode I interviewed Jamileh Dajani, the only female date farmer in the Jordan Valley in Palestine. She is running the business with her children, as long as her husband is working abroad. The farm started with fifty palm trees. These produced offshoots that they have replanted and now the farm has 150 palm trees.
The dates at Jamileh’s farm are watered by water from the Auja spring or by water from the well. This water can be a bit salty. This is due to the hot climate and the high level of evaporation and the closeness to the Dead Sea. The date palm tree can bear that salty water.
There are also Israeli settlers who have date plantations on Palestinian land. They use treated water, which makes a difference in taste, according to Jamileh.
Jamileh explains that Palestinians face a lot of challenges in exporting their dates. Her small farm does not produce enough to go through the hassle of export, she sells to the local market. And especially during Ramadan and Christmas she is very busy. One of her specialties is the Jamileh Delight, a date stuffed with nuts and dipped in chocolate.
You can find Jamileh dates on Instagram @Jamilehdates