In September and October, many farms in the northern hemisphere are preparing to close up for the winter, and farmers are looking forward to a well-deserved break. Not so in Baja Arizona. Hot temperatures last into the fall and mild weather allows many farms to continue to produce throughout the winter. In the fall, many farmers here are working overtime preparing their fields for winter crops, while continuing to maintain and harvest their summer crops. Plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant continue to pump out fruit, although more slowly now as daylight begins to wane. Plants that have produced for months are sprawling and oversized. Okra plants can tower over six feet tall, while squash hide behind gigantic leaves. This is an abundant time of year with lots of heavy produce. Big summer melons sit alongside giant pumpkins and winter squash at market stalls. The seasonal overlap provides a wide selection of fruits and veggies for market shoppers as farmers from various elevations and climate zones bring a wide variety of produce to sell.
In our sometimes scorching desert, the cool-weather growing season tends to be less demanding in terms of both resources and labor. It is usually a relief when the long, hot days of summer finally come to an end. Many farmers work from sunup until sundown, so the long days of summer can be particularly exhausting. Rattlebox Farm owners Dana Helfer and Paul Buseck are just returning to the market after a summertime hiatus. To conserve water and make time for other projects, Helfer and Buseck grow a drought-tolerant cover crop during the hot, dry months of May and June. Then, when monsoon rains start in July they plant summer crops, ready to be harvested in the fall. “At our farm in southeast Tucson, we plant zucchini, green beans, winter squash, cucumbers, melons, watermelon, flowers, green onions, basil, as well as cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, and eggplant that we start in the greenhouse,” says Helfer. As the hot temperatures subside they also start planting cooler-weather root and leaf crops. “When our CSA starts in September or October, this gives us a great mix of late summer and early fall veggies and fruits,” says Helfer. For more information about Rattlebox Farm CSA, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apples, to many people, are a symbol of fall. In Baja Arizona, the apple season starts early and extends for several months. Apples grown here tend to be smaller but sweeter than apples grown elsewhere in the nation. Our long growing season ensures that the apples have plenty of time to accumulate sugars and sweeten in the desert sun. Each type of apple has a slightly different growing season and they appear at markets at different times throughout the season. The texture, sugar content, and acid levels vary for each type of apple, meaning that some apples will perform better in baking or applesauce and others are better for eating fresh. Early season apples tend to be more delicate and don’t last as long in storage as later season apples. One early apple, the Red Delicious, has long been a supermarket standard. The Red Delicious has a bad reputation of being mealy and tasteless, but if you have never tried a freshly harvested, local Red Delicious you will be amazed at the difference. These delicious apples really deserve their name and are great served in simple sweet or savory salads. Later in the season, Pink Lady, Fuji, and Granny Smith apples become available. In the past decade or so Pink Lady apples have become widely available at both farmers’ markets and supermarkets. Bred in Australia, the Pink Lady and its cousins, the Sundowner and Anna’s apple, are hot climate apples, well adapted to our desert growing conditions. With an equally tart and sweet flavor, the apples have a dense crisp flesh and store well. These apples are late season apples and should be available at markets well into the winter months.
Baja Arizona’s longest running U-pick orchard, Apple Annie’s, has a convenient chart on its website letting customers know when each variety becomes available as well as the special qualities and flavors of each. In addition to picking your own apples and pumpkins, there are plenty of fun fall activities. Visit AppleAnnies.com.
Although it sometimes seems like summer will go on forever, eventually it comes to an end. Fall is a great time to preserve produce that will be going out of season soon. Making a few quarts of quick pickles is an easy afternoon project that doesn’t require special equipment. These pickles, which are stored in the refrigerator rather than canned, can last a couple months. Summer veggies like peppers, green tomatoes, squash, okra, and green beans are all prime ingredients for pickling. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and squash can be left whole if very small, quartered lengthwise for spears, or chopped into a relish. Green beans and okra are best left whole. ✜