The California hass avocado season started off early this year and will end on an earlier note. We usually see the season start up in February/March and over the last few years the season has extended into September/October. This year California Avocados were harvested in early January and many of our growers are anticipating they will be done picking most of their crop in the month of July. Although we know from past experience that a grower may have another picking just when we thought the season was over.
There are a number of factors contributing to an early end of the season and all of them relate in some way to the drought. As we enter our 4th year of the California drought the trees continue to be stressed and as a result they produced earlier. Picking earlier meant they would not have to use as much water as they do in the latter and hotter months. Early fruit is known to be immature and have low oil content, but surprisingly the early fruit this season had good oil levels and flavor.
In response to the drought growers are “turning off” some of their groves. They are cutting back the trees to stumps and not watering them due to the high cost of water and strict water restriction mandates. A few of the groves are also being converted to fruit trees such as cara cara, gold nugget or dragon fruit which use less water than avocado trees.
According to the California Avocado Commission “While California’s drought has impacted some of our farmers, the industry has been able to maintain its productivity. Our growers have a long history of good agricultural practices including water conservation. We are hopeful that the forecast for El Nino conditions in the fall will bring some relief to our state and agriculture. We do not anticipate supply problems or drought related price impacts for next season.”
Buying and Eating Tips:
At this time of year all California avocados will be eating great! Buyer needs be to be aware that crops from the southern area will be more mature, meaning they ripen quicker, have a higher oil content and should be eaten firm. Crops from Northern California are less mature because the season starts later and should be eaten riper with a little give. When in doubt engage in a conversation with your produce person and ask where their avocados are from.
For the second year in a row we are seeing increased volumes of smaller sized stone fruit in California. Warmer weather, lack of chill hours and the drought are some of the reasons our growers are citing. Fruit trees require anywhere from 100-1000 dormant chill hours each season, depending on variety and age of the tree, to produce a vibrant crop. As the weather turns colder the fruit trees go into a dormancy state, storing energy for the following year’s crop. Fruit trees achieve their chill hours best between 35-50 degrees. If temperatures rise above 60 degrees during dormancy this can reverse the accumulated chill hours.
Fruit trees need their sleep just like us. We can survive on a few hours of sleep a night but over time a lack of sleep takes a heavy toll on our body. We are less productive, have less energy and can develop health issues. The detrimental effects of the lack of “sleep” or chill hours are not always immediately evident and can take up to a few years to show up. The fruit trees can begin to react in bizarre behavior such as an early blossom or a split blossom where one part of the tree blossoms first and the rest of the tree blossoms later or not at all, often times resulting in smaller sized fruit.
The drought has changed the amount of water growers are using and possibly slowing down the amount of root development and nutrition the fruit receives from the trees. Richard Burkart from Burkart Organics in Dinuba near Fresno feels this could be affecting the size of the fruit but not the flavor. He still sees that sugars are there and brixing good for a high quality piece of fruit. Richard has 30 years of experience growing high quality organic stone fruit. He experiments by ripening up different varieties and looks for a “good balance of acids and sugars to make up a great piece of fruit.”
Storing and eating tips
*We recommend buying only enough fruit that you plan to eat over the next few days. Gently store your fruit stem side down on a cotton cloth at room temperature.
*As they ripen eat them and if the ripening gets away from you the fruit can be stored in the refrigerator if necessary. Remember refrigeration affects the flavor over a period of time and fruit will begin to taste ice boxy or flat.
* Always bring your stone fruit to room temperature before eating to get the best flavor.
We are starting to see the first of the California breba fig crop rolling in, also known as the first crop. The breba crop grows on last year’s tree shoots and harvest is usually around the end of May or beginning of June. The breba crop lasts for a few weeks and hasn’t yet developed the honey sweetness we associate with figs. We will experience a short gap before the second, more flavorful crop starts up in July.
Figs love the hot days and warm nights and are grown mainly in the central valley around the Fresno/Madera area to up north of Sacramento in Corning. Maywood Farms in Corning, CA, Stellar in Madera, CA and Susie Bee farms from Chowchilla, in the central Joaquin Valley, bring you some of the best organic figs. California ranks #1 in US production of figs and produces 100 % of the USA’s dried figs and 98 % of fresh figs.
There are hundreds of varieties of figs but the most popular are the Kadota with light green skin and sweet white flesh, the Brown Turkey ranges in color from brown to copper with a very fragrant flavor and the Black Mission has a deep purple to black skin with sweet pink flesh.
Chris Cadwell was born to be a farmer. A descendent of a long line of farmers, he was only 15 years old when he started his first organic garden. In 1988 he founded Tutti Frutti Farm and now has over 400 acres of organic heirloom tomatoes, specialty cherry tomatoes, a variety of sweet and hot peppers, zucchini and winter squash. Tutti Frutti is situated in beautiful Santa Barbara wine country near California’s Central Coast. The location, climate, and the farm’s dedication to long-range sustainability all come together to produce a consistently delicious crop. Cadwell says “We’re in a pinot noir belt, with great conditions for tomatoes. It’s 85, 90 degrees, not too hot. Every day around noon, the breeze kicks in. It keeps the plants dry, so we have very little disease. And we’re also surrounded by an extreme wilderness area, so we have a natural insectary for predators. We don’t use any manure. Instead, we plant cover crops – vetch, oats, peas, bell beans –and flip those right over into the soil. So we’re improving the soil every year as we grow.“
Now is the start of the season for Tutti Frutti’s heirloom tomatoes. For over 25 years Cadwell has specialized in beautiful streaked, striped and unique shaped heirloom tomatoes. Cherokee Purple, Vintage Wine, Brandywine and Persimmon are just a few of the varieties now available exclusively from Earl’s Organic. The season is just ramping up and we can expect to see more varieties as the season peaks.
Are you looking for an easy no cook dinner? I love making a Panzenalla salad with a few colorful heirloom tomatoes. Share your favorite heirloom tomato recipes on our Facebook page.
Organic farms produce food that is high in nutritional value, use less water, replenish soil fertility and do not use pesticides or other toxic chemicals that may get into our food supply or contaminate nearby bodies of water.
In order to maintain their integrity, organic farms have an array of regulations and an extensive accreditation process. There is rising concern about the effect of Oil and Gas activities like fracking can have on organic agriculture.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and various chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. Depending on the types of permits an operation holds, a fracking operation may be allowed to dispose of the waste water created into nearby bodies of water. In other cases leaks simply happen and waste water seeps into surrounding soil or nearby underground water sources.
As of 2015, 11% of organic farms in the United States are within Oil and Gas Regions of Concern (ROC) and the number looks likely to continue increasing.
The five Regions of Concern under most observation are defined as follows:
- Core: Areas where there’s less than 1 mile between fracking wells
- Intermediate: 1-3 miles between fracking wells
- Periphery: 3-5 miles between wells
- Sub-Watershed: 5-10 miles between wells
- Watershed: 10-20 miles between wells
Sharing a watershed with Oil & Gas activity is a concern for a variety of reasons. Such as a complete alteration in soil composition and quality, due to the chemicals being injected. Chemicals like Arsenic, Napthalene (carcinogen in mothballs), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), and Calcium Chloride and many others are in the chemical “cocktails” commonly used in injection wells. These chemicals are also on the USDA’s list of substances prohibited for use in organic crop production. When these substances seep into water supplies or soil they can stay there for decades despite our best reclamation techniques. Wetland soils are particularly vulnerable due to their moisture content and absorbency.
Another fracking concern for soils and landscape is an increase in earthquakes within ROC’s. Ft. Worth, Texas, a region that had seen no seismic activity before disposal wells began operating has had over 60 earthquakes of magnitude 1.5 or greater in the last year according to earthquaketrack.com. Earthquakes of course can cause physical damage to farms and packing facilities leading to loss of product and equipment.
This is all on top of the already existing reports of people and animals getting incredibly sick when exposed to contaminated water within ROC’s. Stories like this do not bode well for organic livestock agriculture.
The effects of fracking on organic agriculture have the potential to be vast and long lasting and certainly warrant close observation.
You can visit websites like fracfocus.org to research what chemicals are being used and what their purpose is.
Memorial Day is less than a week away and corn on the cob is a staple for your holiday party. The California organic corn season starts in May in Thermal, just 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs where the average high in May is 95.7°. In June, production begins to move north to Coalinga, just off Hwy 5, and continues up to Brentwood and Stockton in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Towards the end of the summer we may see some smaller growers north of Sacramento with inconsistent production.
Organic corn is difficult to grow because of a major pest, the corn earworm. We have seen very little evidence of worms this season but if you happen to find a one hiding beneath the corn silk, usually near the top of the ear, it is easy to remove.
How to choose corn without peeling back the husk
- Feel for plump kernels through the husk
- Look for brown and sticky tassels sticking out of the top of the ear. Black or dry tassels mean the corn is old
- A bright green husk is a sign of fresh corn
Earl’s has delicious sweet bi-color corn for your Memorial Day Weekend. Share your recipes on our Facebook page.
Beautiful, bite-sized Forelle pears from Chile are here for a limited time. Slightly bigger than a seckel pear, they average about 2.5-3 inches long. The red speckled skin turns from green to yellow as it ripens. They are ready to eat when the neck of the pear slightly gives to gentle pressure. The flesh is denser than most pears and leaves behind remnants of cinnamon on your tongue. A perfect match for that cheese happy hour, think gruyere and manchego with fresh California table grapes.
Earl’s Organic is rolling in a variety of luscious La Colline mangoes out of Mexico. Take your pick of the Ataulfo, also known as the Honey, Yellow, Baby, Champagne and Manila, Tommy Atkins or the Haden Mango. One of our fruit buyers, Christie Biddle, is currently traveling to Mexico to meet the grower. We can look forward to hearing about her trip next week when she returns.
The small kidney bean shape of the Ataulfo mango and their vibrant golden color makes them easy to spot. Don’t be fooled by their size- the thin pit means more fruit for you to eat. They are packed with fantastic flavor and their smooth flesh means you won’t end up with stringy fibers caught between your teeth. The season runs from March to July. Currently ataulfos are coming out of Mexico but they are also grown in Ecuador and Peru.
Tommy Atkins mangoes are medium to large sized and oval or oblong shaped with a gorgeous red blush covering a background of green, yellow and orange. The flesh is sweet tasting with some fibrous strands. The season runs from March to July and October to January. Currently Tommy Atkins are coming from Mexico but they are also grown in Ecuador and Peru.
Just in, Haden mangoes! Haden’s looks and tastes very similar to a Tommy Atkin. They have a smooth rich sweet taste with very little fibers. The color of the skin is bright red over a yellow and green background with the distinguishing characteristic of small white dots. When ripe they have the most incredible fragrance. They are available in April and May and are sourced mostly from Mexico.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR MANGO IS READY TO EAT
*Mangoes are ready to eat when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.
*The skin of the Haden mango also turns from green to yellow as it ripens.
The first organic California table grapes of the season have arrived at Earl’s Organic. Grapes come in three colors-red, green and black. The season starts in May out of the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs and the Salton Sea, with early varieties such as the red flame, fireball and green sugarone. As we move into the warmer summer months the growing areas move north up through the entire San Joaquin Valley, producing the popular seedless green Thompson and red Crimson varieties. Although there is still production out of Mexico we have chosen to only carry local California grapes. California grapes are available for most of the calendar year and can be found through January.
*There are over 80 varieties of table grapes grown in California
*Grapes are considered berries, with an average of 100 berries on a bunch.
California is in the peak of the blueberry season for our Southern and Central California growers. We are starting to see pack sizes increase from 6oz to pints and even extra-large 18oz clamshells. These larger packs reflect the abundant supply of the California blueberry crop. Now is the time to enjoy the bounty of California blueberries! More configurations at the retail level mean more choices for your customer and have been proven to generate more sales. Whether you add them to your morning yogurt, toss them in a fruit salad, eat them fresh out of hand or freeze for smoothies, the ways to devour your blueberries are endless. One of my favorite recipes is for blueberry pie. It is extra delicious served cold with organic heavy cream drizzled on top. Please share your favorite recipes on our Facebook wall.