Unlike grocery stores, farmers’ markets don’t carry every type of produce, all the time. Farmers’ markets are at the mercy of the seasons, and the seasons in Baja Arizona are unlike those in the rest of the country.
While summer is the best time to grow in most parts of the United States, the brutal Baja Arizona heat can complicate summer farming. In contrast, Arizona’s mild fall and winter allow for a prosperous growing season that other regions in the country can only dream of.
Knowing what’s in season, when can be helpful for knowing what to expect at the farmers’ market and how to spot a product that might not be local as advertised.
Springtime commonly supports the idea of rebirth, rejuvenation and renewal. In Baja Arizona, the heat of the summer arrives more quickly than in most places, so it’s a relatively short season. But, spring is a prolific time for herbs like dill, parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.
As for more hearty produce, mushrooms, root vegetables, and greens tend to be sold at farmers’ markets in the spring. Spring is also the time of year in this region when cattle graze exclusively in the pasture. The pasture’s lush, green, and thick grasses turn solar energy into beef faster than they do any other time of year.
Local garlic returns to Baja Arizona markets in May, and squash, sweet onions, green beans, and some of the first tomatoes of the year can be found at markets in May and June
The summer heat in Baja Arizona is brutal, but many crops actually thrive. The summer’s rainy season also sets up growth for native crops like corn, squash, and beans.
May and June mark the beginning of the summer fruit season – apricots, raspberries, and blackberries make a brief appearance, followed by peaches, plums, and some melons. Early summer is also a good time to get tomatoes at the market.
Watermelon, okra, and eggplant are some of the most heat-tolerant fruits and vegetables. Spaghetti squash, cantaloupe, purple asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, purple beans, sweet peas, shelled peas, and green beans are all ready to harvest on the farm by the end of June.
Summer produce can be extremely delicate at its peak, meaning it can easily burst or bruise. Therefore, shoppers should be careful when handling produce at markets in the summer.
Whereas fall in most areas of the country signals the beginning of cold, fall in Baja Arizona represents relief from the oppressive summer heat. On average, the frost season here doesn’t start until November, and warm weather produce like tomatoes and peppers can still be found in markets in December.
The most popular fall produce are leafy greens and root vegetables, and even some early citrus varieties. Plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant continue to produce in the fall, although they grow more slowly than they did in the summer.
Because fall in the Baja Arizona region is still relatively warm, there’s a seasonal overlap that provides a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the fall months are not just ideal for continuing production of warm weather crops, but preparing for and planting winter crops as well.
Baja Arizona is also a big pecan growing region, with the nut harvest beginning sometime in late November or early December. The apple season here is also longer than most other regions. October is the perfect time to start growing mushrooms.
For many regions across the country, winter brings frozen topsoil, little sunlight, and temperatures too low to grow outside. Meanwhile, Baja Arizona is full of life.
Cool weather plants like leafy greens and root vegetables are prolific, and citrus grows all around. Winter wheat thrives in the mild Baja Arizona winter, and mushrooms continue to be at their peak growing season.
The mild winter also makes it easier of farmers to work out in the field, and the weather is more ideal for shoppers at outdoor farmers’ markets. The mild winter weather is part of what makes the Baja Arizona region so unique.
Header image by Jeff Smith.