Happy Groundhog Day! As we move into February, the holidays are in the rear-view mirror, but California strawberries are ramping up just in time for Valentine’s Day. The berries are coming from new growing areas of southern California and they are both big and sweet!
Our conventional blueberries are still coming from Chile, but the organic blueberries are a new crop out of Mexico. These blueberries – which are sweet and firm – are grown in an area that produces about 30 days ahead of the conventional fields farther north. It looks as if those berries – from fields operated by Family Tree Orchards – will arrive in our markets late this month or in early March. The great thing about the investment that Family Tree Orchards made in Mexican blueberry fields over the last five years is that we now can count on an excellent supply of great-tasting blueberries during March and April. In the not-too-distant past, we really struggled to get blueberries at all, let alone ones that taste this great. This gives us a great alternative that is much closer to home and fills the gap until the California season gets under way in mid-April.
As for red raspberries, we see good things happening as we move through February. The fruit in the markets now looks great, but supply is limited. We should see promotable volumes later in the month.
The citrus category is just now moving into its peak season. In February and March, you really can’t go wrong with just about anything citrus! The fruit just doesn’t get any better whether its farmed organically or conventionally. The Sumo Mandarins were really good last year and they are even better this year. This one-of-a-kind mandarin will peak over the coming five to eight weeks. The Cara Cara and Heirloom navel oranges are extra sweet right now and we have two new varieties of mandarins arriving soon to take the place of satsumas, which just finished up for the year. We had an exceptional satsuma season this year and we are looking forward to the arrival of the Tango mandarin this coming week.
The Tangos (pictured at left) may be even better than the satsumas, if that’s even possible. Later this month we’ll see Nugget mandarins arrive. No offense to them, they’re admittedly ugly – but they sure eat well!
We are facing a bit of a challenge when it comes to grapefruit. Hurricanes that struck both Florida and Texas last year have resulted in an extremely tight supply. At least the quality of what we are getting is great.
We’re now into a new crop of asparagus from the “spring” growing areas in Mexico. Finally – we’re seeing great quality and sweet flavor. Regardless of the growing region, that first-of-season asparagus is always the best! It’s like how spring grass is the sweetest and most nutritious. Or so I’ve been told. We start out in Mexico in February, move north to California in March and then make the move to Washington-grown as soon as possible in April.
Artichokes are certainly a sign that “spring has sprung” and we should see them begin to pick up as we move through this month. Hopefully we can throw in a couple of promotions in late February. March and April are peak season for the original green globe artichoke from California. When selecting an artichoke, look for the firmest ones with tight leaves. Watch out, the best variety has thorns – but they’re worth it because they also have the best flavor, the meatiest leaves and the biggest hearts.
Now for something fun – champagne mangos, which start this month (pictured at left). We already have seen a few being offered on the market, but we think they’re still a little too early and way too green. A champagne mango is an Ataulfo mango – dubbed “champagne” by a particular grower who does an exceptional job growing and getting these tropical treats to market. This mango leans to the smaller side when compared to other varieties and its skin is a brilliant, full yellow. We buy the largest sizes available in this variety, and we’ll have several promotional opportunities as we move into late February through April. So watch for that. This fruit eats best when it’s a full yellow color with a slightly wrinkled skin.
I’ll be spending next week in California connecting with several of our partner growers to check on what’s left of the citrus season and the coming summer fruit season. The trip begins with Well-Pict to see how the California strawberry season is shaping up. Next we’ll talk with C.J. at Fruit World, one of our organic partner growers. You may have eaten some of his satsumas over the past several weeks, and we’ll be getting his tango mandarins very soon. Family Tree will be a definite stop to see how the Mexican and Californian blueberries are coming along. I’m looking forward to hearing about the coming stone fruit and fresh fig season.
We’ll also connect with Glenn at G&S Farms (pictured lower right) to review our sweet corn season. Glenn starting planting corn Jan 15 and will plant again every other day for the next several months to map out the coming season. We count on Glen at G&S to supply us with white, yellow and bi-color sweet corn from May through early August when our local grower at Sterino’s in Puyallup comes on. We’ll be working with Glenn to do our best to ensure supply in the varieties of corn our customers are asking for. These days, the bi-color has become about 65 percent of our sales followed by yellow, then white. The challenge Glenn faces is that most of his customers do not offer the bi-color, which results in us falling short from time to time. We are hoping we can give him good numbers to commit for planting to supply our needs in bi-color sweet corn throughout the entire season.
One of the last growers we’ll be visiting is Turlock Farms in Firebaugh to get their perspective on the coming season. This year California has received less snowfall in the mountains and we’re curious as to whether or not that will impact their – thus our – season of melons this year.
There will be other growers, too, and I suspect this will be a great trip that brings us some new discoveries we can bring to our markets.
Thanks, and enjoy this month – it’s short but sweet! Joe