Malena Produce Inc. is expanding its colored bell peppers program in Sonora, Mexico, and gradually edging its eggplant production from open field to shade house.

Eggplant started in mid-October and is expected to run into June.

“So far, everything looks very nice,” Gonzalo Avila, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Malena Produce, said as the Sonora deal kicked off.

Avila expected Culiacan production to start by the third week of November, a week later than typical.

“Once we get to Culiacan, it’s a little bit behind because of the rainy season,” Avila said. “Other than that, plants look healthy. Except for the delay, everything else should be business as usual.”

Shadehouse production of eggplant is up this year from about 25% of the company’s program to around 40%. The company predicts promotable volumes on both eggplant and colored bell peppers.

Its colored bell peppers from southern Sonora are expected to start at the end of November and run to mid-May.

“Those are going to be right on time this year,” Avila said. “We’ve grown the program about 20% for this year.”

It’ll be mostly red bells but with solid volume on yellow and orange.

“Most are packed in 11-pound boxes and some in bags,” he said. “That’s a program we’re very proud of. Like our eggplant and squash, it’s high quality.”

The squash began with zucchini and yellow straight-necked squash in early October in Hermosillo, Mexico. That deal runs to December or perhaps January before the action shifts to southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa. Around March, it’ll come back to Hermosillo and run through the end of May.

On tomatoes, Malena starts in Culiacan in December. However, its bigger program is in shade houses from March to June.

The grower-shipper is extending its season on mini cucumbers, sometimes referred to as Persian pickles.

“It used to be more fall to winter,” Avila said. “Now we’re going to have it all the way to spring and in more promotable volumes.”

Malena Produce has roughly doubled its volume of mini cucumbers for this year.

A related offering, dill pickles, targets uses for processing and in the retail fresh market.

The company is benefiting from last year’s addition of 10,000 square feet of racked warehouse space and dedicated forced-air cooling.

The racked space uses a Miatech Bio-Turbo system that recirculates air and uses encapsulated ozone to kill airborne pathogens, Avila said.

“That helps extend shelf life while the product is in there,” he said. “With tomatoes, it removes ethylene, which helps slow down the ripening process.”

The forced-air cooling helps produce delayed at border crossings quickly return to the proper temperature, he said.