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Archive for February, 2012

First Crop Of California Avocados

A new crop of California Hass avocados is starting up. 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.

During the late fall and winter Hass avocados come from Mexico, Chile and Peru in the Southern Hemisphere and allow us to have year round avocados.  There will be some years where the last of the Northern California crop will overlap into January with the first of the Southern Hemisphere crop.  What would the Super Bowl be without a bowl of guacamole? The avocados are picked young in their cycle so they can be packed and delivered either by boat from Peru or Chile or trucked in from Mexico and arrive not yet ripened.  When they are picked early the oil content is not able to develop to its full potential.

As we eagerly await the California Hass avocados we must be patient.  Buyers should be aware of the avocado growing cycles and know that they can be 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.

When you are out shopping ask your local produce person where their California Hass are grown.  You will be sure to buy a better tasting avocado if you choose based on seasonality and geography, Southern California to start off in January/February and work your way north as each area of California finishes their harvest and another area begins.   By June/July most of the California avocados should be at their peak oil content if they are picked at maturity.  The Hass season runs vertically from South to North, following the shape of California which is long and narrow.  The regions will overlap a bit as one finishes and the next one is starting.  Avoid the earliest crop of any avocado and think low oil content.

You can count on us to keep you up to date on the California Hass.  Each year the timing is different and the climate can have a major impact on how it ripens and availability.  Extreme weather such as heavy freezes, rains and extreme fire can damage the crop.  We will continue exploring this area and more in future postings on the California Hass Avocado.

Heavy Flooding In Peru Affects Banana Production

Unusual heavy rains in Peru have caused a natural disaster with major flooding in 22 provinces and affecting thousands of hectares of banana production.  A state of emergency has been declared with at least 15 dead, about 5,000 homeless and 44,000 people affected in total, with rain expected to continue for at least another 3 months.  Water levels continue to rise and at least 40% of the banana plantations are flooded across the entire Piura region on the Northern Coast, from both the rain and floodgates on dams being opened.  Some areas have received 30 years of rain in less than a few days.

The major problem is trees with larger stalks toppling over, as well as not being able to access the plantations. The growers will not able to harvest for some time, and yields will be lower.  All of Earl’s fair trade bananas in Peru come from Tumbes and Piura  and are supplied from BOS (Asociación de Bananeros Orgánicos Solidarios). BOS was founded in 2003 and is comprised of 619 growers with the goal of promoting the development of small scale organic banana farmers.   We can expect limited supply from BOS for at least the next month.  Supplies will continue from other growers.

Below are two videos of the damage caused by the floods. The videos are in Spanish because of the limited coverage of the natural disaster in English.



Check with your local retailer selling fair trade bananas if you would like to donate to the Emergency Peru Relief Program.

Murcott Tangerine Crop lost

A freeze in Reedley, CA near Fresno has resulted in a lost Murcott Tangerine crop to Buddell Farms, a small citrus grower.  Their Murcott crop was damaged by 31 days of frost in December. When there is a freeze or heavy frost, the damage comes from the duration of the cold, not so much with the low temperature.  Six nights in a row of 25-26 degree weather for 6-8 hours a night is what caused the damage to the Murcott crop.  Murcotts have thin skin and the trees are young and not as hearty as say a navel which has a thick skin to protect the flesh.

Usually there is more rain in December and January bringing moisture and fog that keeps the temperatures up so the citrus doesn’t freeze.  The freeze and frost stunts the maturity of the fruit and causes issues such as dry cell. High sugar levels help protect from the frost but because it is a late season fruit the sugar levels were still low.  Unfortunately there is no way to tell if the crop is damaged just by looking at the fruit.  You have to cut it to see if the citrus is dried out.  This freeze means that there may be limited availability for organic Murcotts and higher prices.

Nurses Pistachio Orchard

Nurses Pistachio Orchard started as a retirement plan from nursing for three friends in Southern California. In 1981 Cecilia Garcia, Donna Olson and Jackie Cooper bought 10 acres of land in Paso Robles, 8 miles east of town and about ½ hour north of San Luis Obispo.  The Mediterranean soil, hot and dry days and cool nights of central California are ideal for growing pistachio trees.  When there are seasons without much rain like this year, Pistachio trees are very forgiving because they can tolerate very little water.

It takes 10 years for pistachio trees to produce so this was very insightful planning on their part.  In 1985 they purchased an additional 10 acres of land which they tended to while they continued to work as nurses.  In 1997 the three women retired from nursing and moved onto the land.   In the beginning they hired someone who knew about pistachios to help them run their orchard.  It was a learning experience and instead of picking each nut by hand like they thought, they discovered they needed to lay tarps under the trees and then hit the tree with a mallet causing the nuts to fall on the tarp. The nuts were then gathered in containers, dried and hulled.  Friends and family would come out to help with the work and celebrate the harvest.

Moving tarps from tree to tree during harvest

Bins of harvested nuts ready for processing

The nurses realized that pistachios grown in the Central Valley were harvested one month earlier than Pistachios grown in Paso Robles, which lies between the California Coast and the Central Valley. To get around this problem the nurses decided to just dry their pistachios and not salt or roast them and a new niche for pistachios was born. 

The duties on the farm were shared by everyone.  Jackie took care of much of the planning and organizing, Donna ran the tractor and ATV and reviewed paperwork and Cecilia was in charge of the marketing. 

Nurses Pistachio Orchard became certified organic in 2000 after seeing airplanes spraying pesticides and seeing the variety of sick people in the hospital and knowing what may have put them there.  In 2006 Jackie passed away and in 2010 they sold 10 acres and were left with 6.25 acres of Pistachio orchards plus land for their house and outbuildings.  Currently Donna and Cecilia do the day to day work of the orchard and hire a crew to harvest using mallets and tarps. The pistachios are taken to an organic processor and brought back raw in shell, raw kernels, roasted and salted in shell.   In 2010 they produced 27,0000 lbs from the 6.25 acres and in 2011 they only harvested 10,000 lbs due to the frost in April. You can find their pistachios at local farmers markets and various retail outlets throughout the bay area.

Cecilia on ATV doing orchard chores before harvest


Some interesting facts from the American Pistachio Growers; Pistachios are a cholesterol free snack, a one oz serving of pistachios has as much potassium as an orange and pistachios contain more than 10% of the daily value of dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals like B6, thiamin, copper and phosphorus.  Grab a handful for a healthy snack today. Click here to learn more about growing pistachios and discover sweet and savory pistachio recipes.


Delightfully Turkish

Earl’s brings you “Delightfully Turkish” Organic Dried Figs, Apricots and Mulberries in convenient small carry out packs and for the first time the figs and apricots are available in bulk.  Dedicated to the memory of his mother, Emine, whose image graces each package, Zati Uysal imports Delightfully Turkish Organic Dried Apricots and Dried Figs from his native Turkey.  Organically grown and naturally dried without any preservatives, Zati honors his mother’s legacy of respect for traditional quality and excellence with each package.

If you have never tried dried Turkish figs you will be surprised at how sweet, soft, meaty and deliciously addicting they are.  Grown near the Aegean Sea and bordered by the beautiful Bozdag Mountains, the Sari Lop variety or Calimyrna variety figs stay on the tree until they are perfectly ripe and beginning to ooze sap, guaranteeing a divinely moist and dense fig.  Mountain grown figs will have thinner skins and are more flavorful than figs grown in the valley.  The figs are not harvested until they ripen fully and begin to dry on the branches of the trees and are usually picked near the end of August or beginning of September.  This year the Agean region had rain the last three days of the harvest resulting in a smaller crop. The region benefits from relatively mild winters and hot summers, well-suited to drying the figs.  After the fruit is picked and spread under the hot Aegean sun for more intensive drying the figs are inspected to sort out any bad ones with a light technique called florescent microscopy.  The figs are then soaked in hot salt water, laid out on a rack to dry and then packaged most commonly in a round garland style.  Turkish export policies control exactly what day all figs are released for export at the same time. 

The naturally colored apricots are from Malatya in southeastern Turkey, the world famous apricot region, and are sweet, chewy and ripe with flavor. The color is darker unlike the conventional apricots that are treated with sulfate to keep the bright color orange. The apricot orchards are blessed with fertile soil nourished by the Euphrates River and are picked, dried and packaged in the same manner as the figs.  Turkey is the world’s leading apricot producer with about 65% of the worldwide production of dried apricots coming out of Malatya. 

It is best to store the dried figs and apricots in the refrigerator to keep them soft and fresh. As the dried fruit ages the sap will seep out of the fruit and start to crystalize. They are still delicious to eat as long as they remain s gooey inside

White mulberries are grown on trees that can grow as big as 20-40 feet and grow best in hot climates. The crops are small because birds will eat most of the fresh fruit before it has had a chance to dry.  Dried mulberries are harvested like pistachios. The tree is shaken and the dried fruit falls onto a net where they are transported to be finished drying.

Natural dried mulberries are first chewy and then crunchy with an essence of honey.  They are a delicious and nutritious snack with high levels of iron and protein, rich in antioxidants and packed with nutrients, especially iron, calcium, fiber and Vitamins C and K.

Mulberries are great as a snack. Add them to cereals, trail mixes, and even sweeten your granola with mulberries instead of honey. 


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