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IN SEASON

Stalking Spring

March 18, 1993|RUSS PARSONS

Just like everything else about this California spring, vegetable production has come on in a hurry. Asparagus--that traditional bellwether of the vegetable patch--has gone from a standing start to near-peak production in just a few weeks.

After a winter of cool, soaking rains, March's blasts of warm, dry air have gotten things going fast.

How fast does asparagus grow? One grower claims that in 80-degree weather, a spear can grow five to six inches in a day. It hasn't been quite that warm in the prime growing areas--Stockton, the Sacramento River delta area, Salinas and as far south as Firebaugh (near Fresno). But it has been warm enough that--with the addition of now-significant Southern California acreage and substantial imports from Mexico--wholesale prices are already well under 70 cents a pound and at least one local chain is offering asparagus at under 90 cents a pound.

Artichokes are coming on more slowly and grow in a much more limited area. In fact, 63% of the artichokes eaten in America are grown around Castroville, in Monterey County. With wholesale prices running about 80 cents a pound, artichokes have yet to peak--that probably won't happen for another two to three weeks. But when they do, they'll come on with a bang. The normal artichoke harvest sees a slow trickle suddenly become a flood, then finally revert to a trickle. It is not unusual for 80% of the harvest to come in less than six weeks. Still, at one Los Angeles supermarket, artichokes were going for three for $1.

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