We’ve been spoiled with good weather and an early start to the California strawberry season for the past couple of years. But not this year, which is why we haven’t been able to provide fresh strawberries over the past few weeks.
The few available old-crop strawberries have been fair at best – I’m not sure they even deserve being served no matter how deep the whip cream or other topping you could try to bury them in. We check every day, and had hoped the new-crop strawberry season would be well under way by now. But we suffered another setback Tuesday, Jan. 5, when yet another major storm hit southern California, dumping up to four inches of rain (see the picture someone sent me of the strawberry fields Wednesday morning).
At that point we had no choice but to look into Mexico-grown strawberries for the short term. We hope things dry out in California and we’re able to offer new-crop strawberries at some point next week. The only good news about the stormy weather in California is that they are getting rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains, which will help with the long drought they have been suffering over the past few years.
We finally received what we thought would be excellent quality blueberries Monday (Jan. 4), but ended up sending them back! Not because they looked bad – in fact they looked great – but they had a mealy texture when we taste-tested them. We have a different brand of blueberries arriving tomorrow, and they initially appear to eat much better than the first arrivals from Chile. As far as blueberries go, our winter source is from Chile with the expected start to the Mexico season being in late February or early March. Our best guess on the California crop start date would be late April or early May, followed by Oregon in June and Washington in July. As always we will move closer to home as soon as possible.
Looking forward a bit, the new-crop asparagus from Mexico is about 10 days to two weeks away. Again this is a later start than last year’s early season, but is a more typical start time for that spring crop. California asparagus starts sometime in March and Washington arrives in late April.
The heavy rain in California is creating challenges in the citrus harvest as well. It is not causing damage, but citrus must be dry at harvest or it causes staining and “clear rot.” Clear rot is decay that cannot be seen at harvest, but shows up three to five days after packing. So many of the growers stepped up harvesting just ahead of the rain and now will hold off until things dry out before harvesting again. You shouldn’t see any disruption in supply or eating quality. The great news here is that we expect to load our first shipments of Sumo mandarin oranges on Monday, Jan. 11. If all goes as planned, you should see fruit in the Markets on Thursday, Jan. 14.
Extra-large Florida grapefruits are just now stepping into their peak of flavor. In general, you cannot go wrong with citrus now through March. It’s peak-of-the-season for virtually all California and Florida citrus. Some new varieties on the horizon are the Murcott, Taho and Page mandarins and Melogold grapefruit.
Row crops continue to be a challenge. Limited water resources last fall forced growers to choose how many and which crops they could reliably plant and water to make it to harvest. Many farmers reduced the acreage used for row-crop veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and lettuces. The list of challenges grows when you look at Yuma, Ariz., where cool weather continues to slow things down. They were hit with a pretty hard frost as recently as last week (see my picture of frosty lettuce in Yuma!). All of these factors are combining to create shortages in supply and raising quality issues. All we can do is hope the situation improves over the next several weeks.
Avocados have been the shining star this year. We are about three quarters of the way through the Mexican Hass avocado season. Both supply and quality have been excellent – enough so that we’ve been able to offer promotions regularly. Mexico will continue to be our source for these avocados, but as we move into March we will start a four-week transition period to California Hass avocados. And we’ll stay with California as our source for avocados all the way through the summer months.
I am very optimistic that we will have an excellent spring season in asparagus and berries once we get through these little bumps in the road. Looking further out, it’s a good thing that the stone fruit trees in California and Washington are getting some chilly hours. These trees are getting a good, long rest before they are taxed by producing fruit for the summer months.
Have a great week and thank you for all your patience. I wish everyone health and happiness in this new year!