When it comes to rain, it seems there’s either too much or too little and rarely just the right amount.
Rain halts the harvesting of citrus fruit, and then it generally takes a couple days of dry weather for the fruit to dry before harvesting can resume due to many reasons. For one thing, it’s difficult to move equipment around a muddy orchard. Then you’ve got blemishes that can occur when wet fruit is handled during harvest, increasing what is called clear rot. This is a spot on the fruit that is very difficult to see because it’s virtually transparent at first. But once boxed, that spot turns quickly to a white-blue mold, which then stains any fruit it happens to touch and spreads throughout the box. Even fruit that doesn’t have those issues is affected by rain – a change in acid and sugar levels that can alter flavor.
So clearly, weather is a constant factor in determining when to halt or resume harvest. And we’ve had a few issues with citrus varieties arriving slowly from California due to heavy rain. But I do believe that what we’re getting has been exceptionally good.
The Sumo Mandarin, my favorite citrus fruit in the markets today, is particularly susceptible to rain because water tends to collect in its crown. The water must be continually blown off to prevent rot. This variety cannot be harvested even if the slightest amount of morning dew remains on the fruit when picked. The good news is it looks like the California citrus season will run longer than last year on most varieties. The Sumo likely will be available through March and the Nugget Mandarin, once it starts, should run well into April. We currently have an excellent mandarin called Tango. It’s similar in size to a Satsuma, and is seedless, easy to peel and very sweet.
California strawberries also are struggling due to the heavy rains. Once a good rain system moves through, all the ripe and partially ripe berries must be stripped from the plants, leaving only green fruit. Waiting for these green berries to ripen is what causes gaps in supply. Even with these challenges, I believe we’re getting far better quality strawberries this year than last. In fact, last year was the worst year for strawberries I have experienced in my 40 years in this business. I am thankful for the effort and commitment of our berry buyer at Pacific Coast Fruit (our distributor) to work around and through these supply challenges and still find and deliver high-quality berries.
The outlook for the next few weeks is “more of the same,” which is three to four days of dry, sunny weather followed by three to four days of rain.
The rain that California is getting – even with the challenges it brings to growers – is long overdue, and very welcomed, after so many year of drought. It’s a pain in the short term, but a good thing in the long term. California needs several years of reliable rain and snow fall to help curb the long drought they have been enduring over the past 10 years.
We’ve transitioned from Chile to Mexico for our organic blueberries, and we’re only a couple weeks away from the conventional side being ready. We always move closer to home as soon as possible. The organic blueberries are exceptionally sweet, firm and flavorful. The forecast points to a great season out of Mexico during March. Look for the California season to get started sometime in mid-April and run through May, with the start of the Northwest season in June.
Speaking of rain and the challenges it brings to citrus and berry harvests, it also affects how we transition between growing areas. We’re currently sourcing nearly all our row-crop vegetables from our winter growing areas – Mexico and Arizona. This will continue basically through March. Starting in April, we’ll begin the transition to the spring and summer growing areas in California. We already know we’ll face challenges with consistent supply due to the ongoing wet weather in California. When it rains, the growers cannot plant in coordinated cycles to achieve consistent harvest patterns. Growers call this “skips.”
For example take Glen with G&S Farms in Brentwood, Calif. He starts planting sweet corn in February and then plants every-other-day well into June. In ideal weather, this results in a fairly even daily harvest season from early May through early August when our Northwest corn season begins. If it rains for three to four days, and this pattern continues for any length of time, the planting schedule (and therefore the harvest schedule) is disrupted. Corn takes 74-78 days from planting to harvest. So, if we get excessive rain now that prevents planting for five days, the gap will occur 75 days from now, etc.
We’re excited about the start of the Mexico Champagne Mango season. It looks like the first harvest will fall on or around Feb. 22. This is the first variety to kick off mango season. This mango runs smaller than other varieties and is a bright, full yellow color when ripe. In fact, this mango eats best when the skin is full yellow and actually begins to wrinkle slightly. The Champagne Mango is relatively high in acid and therefore has a great flavor, but will remain on the tart side until the acid drops off as it continues to ripen and wrinkle after harvest. Again, this is one of the best mangos of the year. We offer basically five different varieties throughout the year. The Champagne is followed by other traditional mangos which are: Tommy Atkins, Hayden, Kent and Keitt, in that order. Personally I think the Champagne and the Keitt are the best eating of all the mangos we offer.
Seedless grapes are just now entering their peak. As we move into March and early April, the biggest and best varieties available are from Chile and Peru. Just like the grape varieties we get from California in September and October, Chile and Peru are in a similar time frame, but in the southern hemisphere these months are March and April. We will move through several varieties of green, red and black seedless grapes over the next several weeks. These sweet and crunchy, extra-large grapes are exceptional in their flavor and texture.
We have also just received our first deliveries of Muscat grapes. This variety is not your prettiest or largest. They have, however, a unique flavor. If you haven’t already tried a Muscat grape, it’s one you need to experience. You likely will not buy this grape on appearance alone. It’s the flavor that sells this grape.
Thank you … and sorry for the silence over the past several weeks. I’m back on track, working to update this blog more regularly. Good thing, since this is the time of year when things start ramping up in the fresh produce world! — Joe