Lots of promising fruit-and-weather news this week: It’s the very beginning of berry season, we’re looking at great grapes, early asparagus, promising cherries and, thanks to trees taking their proper winter naps at long last – an excellent stone fruit season.
It looks like we’re finally coming into a good period when it comes to strawberries. We’ve struggled this year with the weather – it’s been holding back California strawberries. But I think we’re out of those woods and should see good quality and supply over the next several weeks.
In blueberries, we’re off to a great start with the new crop from Mexico. The berries are firm and sweet. The blueberry forecast is for good supply out of Mexico for the next three weeks or so and we should be able to transition to California’s new crop by late April or early May – just in time for Mother’s Day. Raspberries will be a struggle for the next few weeks, but we should see California volumes pick up in late May and the local season start right around the Fourth of July holiday.
Believe it or not, California asparagus is already winding down. But that’s OK, because we just got word that we could see Washington asparagus available as early as the week of April 18. I’ve heard start dates estimated as early as April 10, but we’ll want to be sure we have asparagus that is all green and is US Grade #1 quality (the top). The first picking is usually to clean up the fields – and often full of random sizes and more white stumps than later pickings.
First-of-season Pristine seedless grapes arrive this coming week. We have opted for the biggest and best of these sweet, crunchy grapes. You might remember the California Pristines from last September – these are the same variety, but grown in Chile. As I have said before, when it comes to grapes the very best arrive at the tail end of a growing region and only have three or four weeks remain in the Chilean grape season. Once these are gone, I don’t expect to see this variety again until late August. We also have limited number of Muscat grapes arriving late next week and that will be it for the season. We should have a 10-day to two-week supply. Muscats are a table grape, and have been used in wine production and as raisins for centuries. In fact, many call it the oldest domesticated grape variety.
California summer fruits are just around the corner. Early crop reports point toward a good season – the first good season in three years! Although peaches and nectarines will be available as early as April 20, we will bypass the first few varieties and wait for better eating varieties. Look for peaches, apricots and nectarines to arrive mid-to-late May in our Markets. Over the past few years, we have found good quality California cherries that eat well. Those growers are expecting an excellent crop this year – we’re thrilled to hear them say they’ve had perfect cherry-growing weather so far. California cherries are going to come on fast and furious right around Mother’s Day.
As far as cherries that grow closer to home, we just received a picture from Dan Gunkel of Gunkel Orchards near Goldendale, which sells Maryhill brand fruit, of his private reserve cherries in bloom. That’s a beautiful sight – this special variety, the name of which Dan keeps very quiet, is dark mahogany in color, very large, crunchy and sweet! Town & Country Markets has an exclusive with Dan on this fruit in our market area. The best guess right now is that this fruit should be ready for harvest around June 16-22. It’s still a little too early to estimate the crop set, but once we have an idea I will update you! (“Crop set” is the amount of fruit that sets during bloom. Trees can have tons of blossoms but if the weather isn’t right, the amount of fruit that actually “sets” may be low. If conditions are good, that set could be high. We want the middle-of-the-road set, because it gives you good volume and larger fruit. Too heavy a set means smaller fruit. Too light means large, but no volume.)
We have an entire California stone fruit season on the horizon and there’s more great news there – the orchards finally received the necessary chill hours and moisture levels for a great crop. The past couple of years have really taxed the trees with drought and warm winter temperatures. Chill hours are like sleep for the trees, and they need that rest before they begin the hard work of producing fruit. The 2015-16 winter is the first winter in three years for that chill to arrive at the orchards at the right time. Here in Washington, we also had a good winter napping season and the trees are just now waking up and blooming across the state!
Last but not least, we’ll begin to see some new crop of sweet corn out of Coachella, Calif., within the next two weeks. The first deliveries will be from a random group of early growers. Our longtime partner Glen of G&S Farms expects his first Coachella harvest to be right around May 1. Once we start with G&S Farms, we’ll offer his sweet corn from Coachella Valley, then move north to his corn grown in Brentwood, Calif., in late May. We believe G&S grows the best sweet corn (all non GMO)! Each growing area starts with white corn followed, by yellow and bi-color.
Have a great week — Joe
P.S. I’ve started a series of podcasts with Bainbridge Community Broadcasting talking about what’s up with fresh produce, and how we make our decisions about what to carry and with whom to do business.
You can hear the first one here.