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Summer Squash and Strawberries

Early locally harvested surprises put summer on the horizon.

Get ready for some major changes at the Campbell Farmers' Market in the next two months. This erratic weather—cold and rainy, warm and sunny, then partly cloudy, windy and hailing—feels like a moody spring has come to the South Bay.

Last Sunday's weather was gorgeous, the market was packed and growers are bringing a dynamic mix of flavors and seasonal produce.

Summer squash

This was a surprise: summer squash from Borba Farms in Aromas, near Watsonville. Borba has several varieties of young and tender deep green zucchini, pale green Mediterranean squash and yellow crooknecks, as well as squash flowers.

These delicate squashes, picked young and handled carefully between the field and the market, can be sauteéd, baked, steamed or grilled. They'll pick up a wide variety of flavors—marinades, cooking with herbs and butter or simply sauteéd with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The zucchini flowers—use them the day you buy them—are commonly coated in , covered in bread crumbs and fried in olive oil. Try it yourself!

Ron Borba told me he's been growing summer squash in cold frames for 15 years now. The 6 to 8-foot hoop houses trap the warmth of the spring sunshine and protect the plants from all but the harshest frosts.

"This is not risk-free," he said. "A lot of things can go wrong."

He's lost entire crops, but when it works out he extends his growing season by a month or more and creates a popular specialty crop that people snatch up. Right now, the only other squash you're like to see is coming from Mexico, so hold off unless you know it's grown like Borba's. Summer is near!

A similar find was the cucumbers available year-round from Nagamine Nursery, a Watsonville grower with an 8-acre farm covered in glass and plastic greenhouses. Like Borba, they create a warm, protected environment with a space-efficient technique of training cucumbers and tomatoes to vine upwards rather than spreading out.

Strawberries

There have been strawberries at the market for months now, trucked up from Santa Maria. As I've said before, that's not what we're looking for at a farmers' market—we want local producers and seasonal harvests.

The biggest strawberry producing region of California happens to be just south of us in Watsonville and Salinas, and I saw a couple of Watsonville growers at the market with organic strawberries—Yerena Strawberry Farm and Rodriguez Farms. Both are medium sized, family-owned operations.

The strawberries, however, are not yet at their peak. Peak season for Watsonville won't be 'til May and June, but if you can't wait that long and just need some to throw in a smoothie or cook with, grab basket to tide yourself over.

Peas

Finally, simple and sweet shelling and sugar pod peas (that's the kind with a tender and tasty shell that you can eat) were piled high at the market last Sunday, and I expect there will be more throughout late spring.

Pea vines are abundant producers as the weather warms up and the days get longer in April, as you likely know if you've ever had these easy growers at home.

Nick Glasowiski April 11, 2011 at 11:42 PM
I learn new things about produce with every article I read - keep up the good work, Mr. Kraatz!
Cody Kraatz April 12, 2011 at 12:27 AM
Thanks Nick! I learn a lot every time too, like about these season-extending cold frames, greenhouses and row covers. I actually learned that Nagamine Nursery uses some natural gas to heat their greenhouses when there's a frost, which I'm not so comfortable with, but which keeps them from losing crops. Also learned that Yerena Strawberry Farm and others grow a lot of their strawberries under some kind of shelter like hoop houses. I think it's cool to have these crops slightly out of the peak season, but I'm realizing it's not that sustainable and I'll probably stick more to what will grow without all those protective materials.

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