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Archive for April, 2013

Changing Of The Seasons

As the seasons change we are starting to see some of the specialty citrus varieties winding down or ending.  Cara Cara navels are done for the year.  Blood Oranges, Minneolas and Golden Nugget Mandarins will finish by the end of April.  Murcotts will continue for another few weeks and wind down at the beginning of May.  Star Ruby grapefruits will continue through the end of April/beginning of May.

Star Ruby Grapefruits

Star Ruby Grapefruits

If you missed our citrus blog back in February click here for details on all the varieties mentioned above and more.  Get them while you still can!

http://www.earlsorganic.com/its-peak-citrus-time/

Mexican melon season is just starting up. Earl’s now has sugar baby watermelon and honeydew melons.  We can look forward to Cantaloupes coming next week.  Melons will continue to come out of Mexico until around Memorial Day, when they will start to come out of the Californian desert.  Check back for updates on melon varieties.

California Avocados Have That WOW Factor

A group of us at Earl’s just split a case of California Avocados from the San Diego area. With it being relatively early in the season I wasn’t expecting the “wow factor” we taste with more mature avocados.  Boy was I surprised when my first bite was nutty, creamy and rich in flavor. The avocado went perfectly with freshly caught uni over rice and a ponzu dipping sauce giving a delicious umami flavor to the dish.

The California season starts in January/February in San Diego and continues north through Ojai, 1½ hours north of Los Angeles, up through Santa Barbara county and even as far north as Cambria and Cayucos, located a little north of San Luis Obispo and west of Paso Robles on the coast.

As you shop for avocados it is good to be aware of their growing cycles so you are not disappointed with an early crop.  The cycle of maturation, no matter where avocados are grown in the world, means the early crop will have low oil content, low flavor and uneven inconsistent ripening.  The trees are full of fruit and in order to continue to size and produce, the tree needs to be relieved of their burden to make room for the next more flavorful picking.  The oil content will develop as they mature with each picking.  For example, Hass avocados from San Diego where the first crop develops will taste the best earliest in the year, think April/May.  As the months go on avocados from the central coast and even farther north will develop the high oil content and flavor we expect from a California avocado.

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Though there aren’t many Mexican avocados left, this is a good time of year for buyers to be aware that there can be overlap with California avocados.  Beware that the Mexican avocado is a very mature piece of fruit and will ripen quickly.  Some retailers may still have them out in mixed bins.  Be sure to check the stickers or ask your produce person the country of origin.  California avocados are less mature right now and will ripen slower and still have great flavor.

We can look forward to the avocados from the San Diego area tasting even better as we get into late April and early May.  What is your favorite avocado recipe? Please post them on our Facebook wall.

Farm to Table and Everything in Between

Quality Packing and Shipping

Quality Packing and Shipping is a family owned growing and packing operation in Stockton, CA. The Bozzano family owns and operates a 54 acre organic cherry orchard and a 45 acre organic olive orchard. Although the trees were planted in 1980 when Jack Bozzano began farming, the orchard is only in its 5th season of organic production.  Jack said it was his wife Nancy, who had a long standing interest in healthy and sustainable food systems, that inspired the transition to organic production 8 years ago.

 

The orchard consists of 6,534 trees; 5,566 Bing, 97 Rainier, and various Black Tartarian, Van, and Larian. Because cherries need to be cross pollinated, each field is primarily comprised of Bing trees interspersed with 12% pollinators. Each of the pollinators are clearly marked with painted trunks so cultivators know not to mix the fruit from those trees in with the harvest from the other varieties. Because the surrounding fields are conventional walnuts, the outer row of cherry trees can not be sold as organic due to the risk of pesticide drift. These trees are marked with white paint to indicate that this fruit cannot be harvested as organic.

 Cherry Outer Row

Jack has faced several challenges since switching to organic production, namely organic pest management and the cost of farm labor. The largest pestilent threats to the cherries are gophers and weeds. If unchecked, gophers can rapidly destroy an entire orchard by gnawing away at the trees’ roots. In order to ameliorate the threat of gophers Jack houses barn owls, a natural gopher predator, in owl boxes around the orchard. Although a single barn owl can eat as many as 155 gophers per year, they also practice regular disking (a method of tilling the upper layer of soil) in order to disturb the gophers’ habitat and break up their underground tunnels. Aphids pose an additional threat; Jack tried introducing mass amounts of lady bugs to combat aphid infestations, but found this method to be insufficient. Now, in addition to using lady bugs, he uses a mild soapy water to spray on any aphid colonies he encounters in the field. The soapy water technique is effective and a common organic pest management technique, but only if one is diligent about checking trees and catching infestations before they grow too out of hand. Jack pointed out that the biggest increase in cost he has faced is that of the farm labor. He may be saving money on pesticides and his nutrient rich clay loam soil does not require much fertilizer, but organic agricultural techniques require significantly more labor to control pests. Instead of simply mass spraying fields with herbicides and pesticides the soil must be tilled more often and compost and mulch must be applied to reduce pests and weeds.

 

Barn owl boxes are placed in the fields to protect against gopher infestations

Barn owl boxes are placed in the fields to protect against gopher infestations

The majority of the products that are sorted and packed in their facility come directly from the Bozzano orchards. However, Quality does a significant amount of packing and shipping for other local growers, particularly those under 50 acres who are too small to operate their own packing and shipping operations. Patrick, the sales agent at Quality, admitted that one of the most rewarding things about operating a packing facility is being able to give small growers the opportunity to make a living off their land.

 

Cherries should be stored at 30-32 degrees for optimal longevity, but because colder fruit is more susceptible to pitting and bruising, the fruit is never fully cooled until after it has been run through all of the sorting and packaging equipment. As a result, when the fruit is brought in from the field it goes through an initial round of hydro-cooling using 55 degree well water to bring down the temperature of the fruit before it goes into the packing shed. The Quality Packing shed is a 27,500 square foot facility equipped with all the tools to clean, sort, and pack the cherries and other product they contract. First the cherries are put through the blower which dries the fruit and removes leaves and debris. Next the cherries are hand sorted on a conveyer belt and rotten fruit is removed before the fruit goes through the sizers. The sizers consist of long rollers with a gap that tapers at the top. Smaller fruit falls through the rollers at the top and as the gap between the rollers increases, the larger fruit falls through the rollers farther down the line. Any cherries that are too small to be packed are segregated and sold to maraschino cherry manufactures and the others are moved along conveyor belts according to their size. The fruit then goes through one more quality check before entering the final hydro-cooler. The fruit is then cooled all the way to 32 degrees before being packed into bags or clamshells to avoid condensation.

 

The farm to table movement elicits images of quaint family farms and pickup truck beds filled with fruit, but does little to illustrate the immense number of human hands and machinery that are involved in the harvesting, cleaning, sorting, prepping, and packaging of your produce. Being able to witness the mechanics and sophistication of the packing and shipping process gives a new light to our modern food systems and new meaning to the utopian image of the farm to table movement.

Dragon Tongue Radishes

NEW at Earl’s Organics! Chinese dragon tongue radishes are long and skinny with a bright white flesh.  At first taste they seem rather mild but the spiciness increases with each bite.  Perfectly delicious to snack on or cut up and add to a salad.   Look for radish bunches with fresh greens and no signs of wilting.  Eat them as soon as possible or they will lose their crunch. Limited quantities available!

Dragon tail radishes

Dragon tail radishes

Earl’s Remembers John Pizza From Washington Vegetable

 

Earl’s Organic fondly remembers John Pizza from Washington Vegetable Company.  John, a prominent leader of the San Francisco Produce Market, passed away on Friday evening.  Earl started buying from the Market back in 1980 when Washington Vegetable was THE vegetable house.  Earl would come down around midnight and walk the Market for a few hours.  If you wanted to get the best greens, especially leaf lettuce you went to Washington Vegetable.  Earl remembers John schooling him on the proper etiquette of the market.  “You buy all your stuff from us. That way we take care of you when the market is tight.” Earl remembers replying “What if your quality isn’t good?” John told him “Don’t worry. We will take care of you.”  Earl built his relationship with John and Washington Vegetable over the years and knew he could always expect quality product. John will be missed by all of us on the Market.

A Visitation will be held on Tuesday, from 5pm to 7pm with a Rosary at 6:30pm at Halsted N. Gray – Carew & English, 1123 Sutter St. SF. A Funeral Mass will be held on Wednesday at 10:30am at Saints Peter & Paul Church, 666 Filbert St., SF. Private Interment.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the following: Hospice By The Bay, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Larkspur, CA94939, and Saints Peter and Paul Church, Becoming Towers of Strength, 666 Filbert Street, San Francisco, CA94133

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