Spring in the desert is usually a fleeting season between winter and summer. Frosty nights can quickly turn into hot days. Swings in temperature are hard on plants, so farmers spend lots of energy protecting crops during this season.
Sensitive crops that prefer mild, moderate weather have a short season here. When vegetables like snow peas, asparagus, spring onions, fennel, cauliflower, and cabbage show up at the market, be grateful and appreciate them while they last. As hotter temperatures arrive, they quickly disappear.
Spring onions are a special treat this time of year. Some are onions specifically bred to be picked in the green stage and others are bulbing onions that are picked early. Either way, they are delicious with a sweeter, less sulfuric flavor than mature onions. Eat the greens as well as the bulb. Left whole or cut in half lengthwise, these onions are delicious rubbed with oil and grilled or broiled to bring out their sugars. They make a great accompaniment to grilled meats, are tasty tucked into tacos, and can be sliced and added to hearty salads or stir fries.
Herbs like dill, parsley, and cilantro grow well in our spring weather. When they show up in abundance, use them with abandon in soups and salads, or add to dips and pesto dishes. While dill makes a great dried herb, parsley and cilantro will quickly loose their flavor. Instead, chop these herbs finely and mix with a bit of lemon juice, a heavy dose of olive oil, minced garlic, and red chile flakes to make a chimichurri sauce that is delicious as a marinade or finishing sauce for meat and vegetables. You can freeze this mixture in an ice cube tray for easy access later.
Even though their crops won’t be ready for harvest until summer or even fall, fruit farmers in the region are busy in the spring. In winter, trees are dormant and don’t need protection, but as sap starts flowing again and trees begin to bud and bloom, farmers have to be vigilant about protecting them from freezing temperatures. Luckily, there are a few options that farmers can use, the simplest being either ground or aerial sprinklers. Most orchards are also equipped with large wind machines that keep colder air from settling around trees. Combined with strategically located heaters, this method can be very effective. But it still requires monitoring until the danger is passed and that can mean many a sleepless night for farmers.
Besides fluctuating temperatures, another difficulty farmers face in the springtime is insect infestations. While cold winter temperatures eliminate many farm pests, warmer spring weather usually means an increase in bug activity. Many farmers let some of their winter crops flower and go to seed to provide a habitat for beneficial insects that prey on the bugs that damage crops. Aphids love cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and turnips, and you may see evidence of the little bugs on your produce. Don’t worry. Giving your veggies a bath in a large bowl of water spiked with a few teaspoons of vinegar will usually rid the vegetables of unwanted guests.
Sometime in March, we start seeing the brilliant yellow of blooming mesquite and palo verde trees all over town. “In spring, honeybees forage on native legume trees; mesquite, acacia, palo verde, and ironwood,” says Jaime de Zubeldia from ReZoNation Farm. “These trees provide an important supply of nectar and pollen for honey bees preparing to build up their colonies from lower winter numbers.” It is not unusual to see a swarm of bees this time of year, in search of a new home. While they are swarming they are mostly harmless, but if you see them settle anywhere, contact a beekeeper who can come and harvest the bees. ReZoNation Farm provides fee-based bee relocation services as well as beekeeping workshops.
Visit ReZoNationFarm.com for more information.
You can use pasta, potatoes, or whole grains as a base for this salad. Served warm or cool, this is a refreshing, yet filling dish.
Toss vegetables with a generous splash of oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, lay in a single layer on a baking pan and roast at 425º. Cook for about 12-15 minutes, flipping veggies halfway through, until almost tender. Turn on broiler and cook for an additional couple of minutes to caramelize and brown the veggies slightly. While vegetables are cooking, mix together oil, juice, and mustard. Remove vegetables from oven and roughly chop into bite-size pieces. Toss with dressing while still warm. Add the remaining ingredients, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Looking for local asparagus? Big D Farms is the place to get it. Forrest and Neil Dunaetz have two crops on about 1½ acres on their property outside Dragoon. Asparagus takes a few years to establish, but comes back year after year. This will be the fifth and third year for the two crops of Purple Passion asparagus. “The crop generally starts to produce around mid to late March, depending on how warm the weather is,” says Forrest Dunaetz. Spring is the best time to get this local delicacy but “occasionally we will get a smaller summer crop, triggered by the monsoon rain,” he says. After taking some time off for the winter, farmers’ market customers will be glad to see them back at the market when asparagus season starts.
The brothers are looking for a buyer for the property, which they purchased with their father, Leo Dunaetz, who passed away last year. The farm boasts a variety of well-established trees and bushes, including raspberries, peaches, and apricots. Facebook.com/DunaetzFarm.
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.