(May 28) A recent spate of cool weather — including a brush with light frost the third week in May — had New Jersey growers refiguring their start dates on blueberries and summer vegetables.

After a mild winter and spring, temperatures soared into the 90s for a number of days in April before cooling off again. The roller coaster weather had growers anticipating an early start for many items, but now the crop timing apparently has fallen back to normal.

Blueberries should begin harvest in mid-June, growers said. Barring any more inclement weather, the quality of the crop appears especially good, they said.

Vegetables, meanwhile, began coming off in staggered intervals in late May as New Jersey’s wet items — asparagus and greens such as kale and collards — neared the end of their spring run. Growers were beginning to harvest romaine around the third week in May, and iceberg was set to come off by the end of May.

Items like squash and cucumbers should begin in early to mid-June, while tomatoes are on track for a late June start, growers said. Bell pepper plantings won’t be picked until about July 10, which is normal.

BLUEBERRIES

Art Galletta, a partner in Hammonton, N.J.-based Atlantic Blueberry Co., said the brush with frost the third week in May caused little to no damage to blueberries in the Hammonton area, which received some of the lowest temperatures and is epicenter of the state’s famous blueberry industry.

“I don’t think it will even be noticeable,” Galletta said. “In 1992, we lost half the crop on May 21, but that’s not the case this time. It’s going to be mid-June, give or take a few days. The last week has held them up.”

Galletta said New Jersey’s blueberry quality will be top-notch this season.

“I’ve looked around, and everything is trimmed up nicely,” he said. “The people around here really know how to grow blueberries.”

Production will hit stride within a few days and run strongly for about five weeks before tapering through mid-August, growers said. F.o.b.s for the New Jersey blueberry deal typically begin around the $14-16 range before falling a bit and stabilizing thereafter.

LETTUCE

Tom Sheppard, president of Cedarville, N.J.-based Eastern Fresh Growers Inc., said he thought he was going to be early with his romaine and iceberg lettuce. “But the cold weather probably pushed us back to normal,” he said.

Those leafy items will be available through the first of July, Sheppard said, and the fall crop will return from the end of September into November.

New Jersey growers harvested 1,000 acres of iceberg last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Acreage for romaine wasn’t kept for 2001, but growers harvested 700 acres of the crop in 2000.

Cedarville-based Sheppard Farms Inc., which markets its product through Eastern Fresh Growers, discontinued growing tomatoes this season. But Sheppard said overall acreage should be comparable to a year ago, when growers harvested 3,400 acres of tomatoes.

TOMATOES

Joe Marino, director of sales and marketing for Swedesboro, N.J.-based Marino Bros., said his farm narrowly missed a freeze with its first tomato plantings in early April and again escaped the cold in late May.

“We got pretty cold, but we seem to be in good shape,” Marino said May 22 of his tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. “I think instead of early, we’ll start right about normal.”

That means not much dry vegetable volume before early June, but tomato supplies should be good for the July Fourth holiday, he said.

PEACHES

Peaches, a popular New Jersey summer item, will hit volume in mid- to late-July, with supplies remaining fairly strong until about the third week of September, growers said. The April cold snap helped growers thin their orchards naturally, which reduces production costs and could lead to larger fruit size, they said.