After slow start, New Jersey vegetables catch up

05/26/2011 04:07:00 PM
Andy Nelson

New Jersey growers endured a cold, wet start to the spring, but it could have been a lot worse.

“We didn’t have the heavy rains and severe weather a lot of the country had,” said Bill Nardelli, president of Cedarville, N.J.-based Nardelli Bros. Inc. “We were very fortunate.”

Damage also was limited, Nardelli said, by the fact that many plants are transplanted from greenhouses.

“They don’t take the beating” they used to, when they began life in the open field, Nardelli said.

Nardelli Bros. began harvesting parsley, beets, leeks, greens, lettuces, cabbage and other wet vegetables in April, Nardelli said.

Squash, cucumbers and other dry vegetables were set to begin shipping in late May, he said.

Also, with cooler weather, crops grow more slowly, which is generally good for quality, Nardelli said.

This spring has turned out to be almost ideal for Fresh Wave Fruit & Produce, Vineland, N.J., said company vice president Nick Giordano.

“Our deals are right on time, the weather’s cooperated, the rain came when we needed it and the quality is excellent,” Giordano said.

Fresh Wave began shipping Jersey-grown romaine and leaf lettuces, parsley and cilantro on May 1, and by the middle of the month volumes were in full swing, Giordano said.

Iceberg lettuce is the only commodity Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., Cedarville, N.J., expects to grow more of in 2011, said Tom Sheppard, the company’s president.

Volumes of all of the company’s other commodities should be similar to last year, he said.

The company expects to double its iceberg production, but the percentage increase is misleading, Sheppard said. Instead of growing 15 acres, Eastern Fresh will now grow 30.

Thirty years ago, there were thousands of acres of iceberg grown in New Jersey, Sheppard said. Then romaine, red and green leaf, boston and other lettuces took over, and Eastern Fresh was left as the only local grower of iceberg.

Growing weather for iceberg, romaine and all other lettuces grown by Eastern Fresh has been excellent this season, Sheppard said.

“Days in the 70s and nights in the 50s are ideal for lettuce,” he said. “We’d rather see 70 than 90. We may be a couple of days late, but there should be real good quality.”

Sheppard said his company began its vegetable season with asparagus in mid-spring, and expects to wind the deal down about the first week of June.

Romaine followed at the end of the week of May 16 and was expected to ship through June, Sheppard said.

Eastern Fresh will likely begin shipping squash about June 10, cucumbers about June 20 and peppers about July 15, Sheppard said. The company expects to have all three commodities available throughout the summer.

Peppers were planted a bit late because of the heavy rains early in the growing season, but good growing weather in early May was helping crops get caught up.

And Sheppard said when it comes to the weather, it’s all relative.

“When you see the conditions in other parts of the country, we’re happy with what we’ve gotten,” he said.

More and more New Jersey vegetable growers are extending the season by growing under row covers, said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton.

It’s common to see commodities like squash and cucumbers grown under cover in the Garden State, Casella said.

Now, however, more growers are trying to grow tomatoes under cover, too, he said.

“It’s pretty labor-intensive and expensive, but growers see the benefits,” he said.

“It’s not only the heat, but protection from the wind.”



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