Warm winter weather bolsters desert crops - The Packer

Warm winter weather bolsters desert crops

11/11/2011 11:58:00 AM
Don Schrack

California’s Salinas Valley is about to take its annual fall-winter production hiatus, but the California desert is gearing up to provide plenty of winter salad ingredients.

Temperatures began to cool at the end of October, grower-shippers said, but until then, growing conditions were as good as they have been for years.

Salinas-based Coastline plans to continue to harvest broccoli and cauliflower in the Salinas Valley until late November, said Mark McBride, office sales manager.

“Then we’ll move directly to the desert for the winter season,” he said.

A mid- to late November harvest start was the schedule for cauliflower at Fresno, Calif.-based Baloian Farms.

As with the company’s other winter vegetables, the cauliflower is grown in the Thermal area of the desert, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager.

The cole vegetable harvest for Imperial Sales, Holtville, Calif., also should begin shortly after Thanksgiving Day, said Cliff Smith, owner.

“The broccoli and cauliflower harvests usually start within a day or two of each other,” he said.

Last year, the company resurrected the Bonanza label, a marque long associated with California desert vegetable production and familiar to old-time produce section managers.

“The label was well received,” Smith said. “We packed about half of our volume under the Bonanza label last year.”

Imperial Sales also continues to use its Eclipse label.

The cabbage harvest, both red and green varieties, is scheduled to begin the last week in November at Vessey and Co. Inc., Holtville, said Jack Vessey, vice president.

For the most part, the company’s fields escaped damage from a couple of early October storms.

“We got 1 ½ inch of rain in 20 minutes,” Vessey said. “The rain was spotty, though. We have one ranch that didn’t get a drop.”

The storms hit after the winter crop plantings were in the ground, and “we got dinged up on a few things,” he said. “But the quality of what was not hit is beautiful.”

Other winter crops from Vessey and Co. include napa and bok choy. Picking of both is scheduled to begin in late November, Vessey said, and should continue into March.

The company’s cabbage deal will run into April, he said.

The Coastline celery harvest will start a bit later in the desert than its other Imperial Valley commodities. After wrapping up celery production in Salinas, Coastline planned a stop in Southern California.

“We’re scheduled to begin harvesting celery in Oxnard about Nov. 10,” McBride said in late October.

“That deal will continue until about Jan. 10, when we’ll move to the Imperial Valley.”

There seems to be a resurgence in popularity of California-grown eggplant, particularly among retailers on the other side of the country.

“Eggplant has taken a turn for the positive for the first time in years,” said John Burton, general manager of Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, Calif. “Folks on the East Coast and in eastern Canada have been looking for eggplant from the West Coast.”

The late fall-early winter eggplant crop in Coachella has great color, he said.

At Peter Rabbit, the eggplant is cooled immediately after it is harvested, Burton said, and then tissue wrapped to prevent shipping burns before packing.

“We try to ship our eggplant the same day its picked,” Burton said.

Eggplant has about a two-week shelf life when the cold chain is properly maintained, he said.

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