“It’s going to be a little bit cooler than Tucson at our farm, so we continue with our greens and root vegetables into April,” says Andrew Carhuff of Aravaipa Creekside Growers. While the farm in Winkelman is about the same elevation as Tucson, temperatures can drop 15 to 20 degrees below those in the city. During the day, the field warms up due to high sun exposure.
“Toward the end of March, we direct seed heirloom squash, flowers, and basil,” says Carhuff. Tomato starts planted over winter will grow in the greenhouse until the end of March or early April, when the chance of a late freeze has dissipated. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms will continue to grow in the greenhouse until July, when temperatures are too high to sustain yield without climate control.
Farm duties in March and April include weeding, building straw logs to use as substrate for mushrooms, and succession planting. Succession planting, seeding in regular intervals, helps to maintain constant production from a small plot of land. “We have five acres that we own, and we’ll be growing slightly less than one acre at any given time,” says Carhuff. “We’ll plant radishes and salad greens in succession throughout the spring.”
Expect mushrooms, root vegetables, and greens to be sold at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park in the spring. Aravaipa Creekside Growers also sells wholesale products to Pivot Produce, which distributes the farm’s ingredients to a number of local restaurants.
“February, March, April are our favorite time of year,” says Paul Schwennesen of Double Check Ranch in Winkelman. “It’s the easiest time for us and the animals.” The weather is favorable, and animals are expending less energy to stay warm during harsh nights.
During March and April, the cattle are grazing exclusively in pasture, with 20 to 30 animals grazing on the ranch. That’s when the pasture is lush, thick, and green and turning solar energy into pounds of beef faster than at any other time of year. “It’s not impossible for animals to gain two to four pounds per day in optimal locations,” says Schwennesen.
In spring, the cattle will be grazing annual rye, which makes up at least half of their diet, and a blend of native annuals like clover and alfalfa, which acts as a nitrogen fixer to replenish soil nutrients.
Double Check Ranch employs management-intensive grazing, a technique in which herds are rotated through fresh pasture to help regenerate soil and grass growth. “Animals are not simply extracting or mining the ground that they’re walking on and grazing,” says Schwennesen. “They are biological participants in this process of grass growth and renewal.”
“We’re trying to capitalize on the ‘bloom period’ where we can get weight on as many animals as possible,” says Schwennesen. The ranch will continue to process animals for beef during March and April.
Double Check Ranch produces lamb, pork, chicken, and eggs in addition to beef. They sell at Heirloom Farmers’ Markets at Rillito Park and Oro Valley, at the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market, and at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market. They supply beef to 18 restaurants including Wilko, Blue Willow, Truland Burgers & Greens, Graze, and Canyon Ranch.
For some Baja Arizona producers, spring is a season of expansion. Through the spring, sows—female pigs—will give birth to an average of eight piglets per litter at the farm of E & R Pork in Tucson. With a remodeled farrowing barn, the animals are offered more space to roam and lie in sunlight, as well as new feeders to reduce waste and increase ventilation. For the pigs, these conditions equal overall better health.
The farm will continue to process animals throughout the spring, preparing for barbequing season. They will also be preparing hams and roasts for Easter gatherings.
E & R Pork will be preparing for expansion of the holding pen over the summer. With dreams of growing to fill the vast market for pork within and beyond Baja Arizona, there is work to be done. “Within the next five years we’d like to have our own processing facility,” says Rodney Miller, who owns E & R Pork with his wife, Erika Pacheco.
In addition to expanding its existing facility, E & R Pork is developing a charcuterie business, making preserved meats to be sold at the farmers’ markets. “The best way to describe it is that we’re expanding,” says Miller. This charcuterie business is made possible through a collaboration with Kelzi Bartholomaei, the chef-owner of Mother Hubbard’s Café. Bartholomaei’s style of charcuterie involves making slowly-dried meats using low-salt rubs and brines to extend the life of the meat and infuse flavor. Among these hand-crafted meats are agave and tequila pecan-smoked bacon and juniper mesquite-smoked bacon.
Dry-cured meats are sold at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park and the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market. E & R Pork also sells to a number of Tucson restaurants like Welcome Diner and Mother Hubbard’s Café. Its pork is also sold at Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market and Time Market. ✜
Rachel Wehr is a Tucson-based freelance journalist. She spends her free time in nature among cactus and pines.