Most New Jersey vegetable crops are off to a slow start this year, particularly compared to 2012, when warm weather accelerated harvests.

“It’s been a cool spring, a little cooler than normal,” said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton. “It seems that everything’s slower than last year.”

If the weather warms up and fields dry out, though, crops still have plenty of time to catch up, Casella said.

By early May, growers had begun planting tomatoes, peppers, squash and other crops — particularly those growing under plastic and hoops — Casella said.

“In south Jersey they do a lot of hoops,” he said. “It helps lengthen the market.”

Casella reported a marginal increase in the use of hoops this year, mostly among existing users who are increasing their acreage.

Most crops should begin shipping at the end of June or beginning of July this year, Casella said. Product under hoops should begin shipping a bit earlier.

Casella didn’t expect any major changes in overall production in 2013, he said.

“I haven’t heard of much one way or the other,” he said. “They have their markets and know what they need.”

Slightly more acreage than typical could be used to grow grains this year, Casella said. But little land would likely be lost to development.

“It was going pretty crazy for a while, but it’s slowed down here in New Jersey,” he said. “There really haven’t been any big shifts the past four or five years.”


Impact of weather

Cool, wet spring delays New Jersey vegetablesSpring started on the wet and cool side, but it also featured periods of unseasonably warm temperatures followed by unseasonably cold ones, said Bill Nardelli, president of Cedarville, N.J.-based Nardelli Bros. Inc.

That set back some harvest schedules one or two weeks.

By mid-spring, though, Mother Nature had calmed down a bit, Nardelli said.

“Things are straightened out now,” Nardelli said the week of May 6. “Production has been very good.”

One thing Jersey growers don’t want, Nardelli said, is a quick switch from cold and wet to very hot. Some vegetables are more susceptible to tip burn if the weather swings from one extreme to the other.


Tomatoes, squash, peppers, others

Many New Jersey growers who cater to farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer channels are growing more varieties of tomatoes, Casella said.

“There’s a little more diversification of varieties, including heirlooms and plums,” he said.

Nardelli Bros. transplanted its squash, pepper and cucumber crops from greenhouses in late April and early May, right on time, Nardelli said.

“The quality and consistency looks good, and if the weather stays consistent, it looks like a really good crop and we expect some strong demand.”

More seasonably normal temperatures — which were in the forecast as May progressed — should ensure that, Nardelli said.

Cedarville-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc. expects to begin shipping squash about June 10, cucumbers in mid-June and peppers by the middle of July, president Tom Sheppard said.

Across the board, Sheppard expected a good year for Jersey vegetables, quality-wise, as of mid-spring.

Eastern Fresh’s squash acreage should be similar to last year, its cucumber acreage should increase slightly and its pepper acreage is expected to be lower than it’s been the past four or five years, Sheppard said.

Jersey growers who target farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer options also are diversifying the varieties of peppers they offer, Casella said.

In addition to leafy greens, Nardelli Bros. was shipping cilantro, dill, radishes and other items in good volume by the first half of May, Nardelli said.

This summer Formisano Farms, Buena, N.J., plans to add squash to the cilantro and dill programs it runs all spring and summer, president John Formisano said.

“We’ll have a lot of squash this summer,” he said.

In September, Formisano Farms plans to add fennel and broccoli rabe to the mix.