Growers and marketers are looking forward to a decent winter supply of vegetables from protected acreage, and they are hopeful there won’t be another freak February freeze in Mexico like the one that destroyed crops earlier this year.

The unusual freeze damaged many crops in Mexico and drastically reduced Rio Rico, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC’s supplies, said Chris Ciruli, partner and chief operating officer.

Cucumbers in particular were hit hard, but colored bell pepper and tomato crops also were hurt.

Ciruli says he hopes for better weather and expects bigger volumes this season.

At the beginning of the year, about half of Ciruli’s crops were open-field and half were protected. When the freeze hit, some crops were protected by plastic, while others were under mesh.

This year, all are protected by plastic, Ciruli said.

“We hope to fare better than last year if we have weather like that, but I think last year was an oddity,” he said.

Ciruli and other industry members said the freeze was the worst in about 60 years.

In addition to providing needed protection in case of another freeze, converting crops from open fields to protected agriculture should provide a more consistently high quality supply, Ciruli said.

All of Ciruli Bros.’s cucumbers and tomatoes this winter will be greenhouse-grown.

This season, Ciruli Bros. is adding green bell peppers and eggplant to its line of protected agriculture items, Ciruli said. It also markets colored bell peppers, round tomatoes, roma tomatoes and cucumbers.

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, also expects a greater volume of greenhouse vegetables this season as compared to last, as long as there isn’t another unexpected freeze, said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director.

Demand for greenhouse produce continues to grow, and the company continues to add acreage to keep pace, he said. Oppenheimer has added partnerships with three greenhouse growers in Mexico that are producing tomatoes on the vine, long English cucumbers and slicer cucumbers.

Oppenheimer plans to market Mexico-grown long English cucumbers, mini cucumbers, slicer cucumbers, beefsteak tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine and Fair Trade, conventional and organic colored bell peppers, Quon said.

In late November, the crops were healthy and on schedule, he said.

Nogales, Ariz.-based SunFed’s protected agriculture production began as usual in September in the Caborca, Sonora, area of Mexico, and should transition normally to the states of Sinaloa and Colima for its main winter production, said Danny Mandel, principal.

“One of the beautiful things about (protected agriculture) production is that it is not just of extremely high quality, (but) it is also highly predictable as far as its arrival to market,” Mandel said.

Although crops in protective structures still can be affected by weather variations, Mandel said the effects usually are miniscule compared to effects on field crops.

SunFed increased its protected agriculture area of cucumbers, colored bell peppers and roma tomatoes by a total of about 350 acres this year, Mandel said.

In late November, Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International LLC was harvesting colored bell peppers from hot houses in Coachella and from Baja California Sur, Mexico, said Mike Aiton, marketing director.

The Coachella hot house pepper season got under way Nov. 15, a typical start date, he said.

“The object is to get them available for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are great cooking holidays,” Aiton said.

Prime Time also grows hot house peppers in mainland Mexico. It grows red, orange and yellow bell peppers as well as colored mini sweet peppers, and offers both field-grown and hot house-grown peppers year round.

The firm designs, builds and operates its own hot houses, and all of its peppers are packed in packing houses that operate using identical standards and technology all year round, Aiton said.

Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce Imports LLC, Nogales, Ariz., said the tomatoes, European cucumbers and colored bell peppers Apache will market this winter are on schedule.

The company’s growing entity is Plain Jane Produce Co., which grows in the Culiacan, Sinaloa, area of Mexico.

In late November, Apache was marketing European cucumbers from Sinaloa, and Maldonado said he expected tomatoes to be ready by mid-December and colored bells in January.

San Antonio-based NatureSweet Ltd.’s tomato crops also were on schedule in late November, said Bobby Patton, vice president of marketing. Its growing operations are near Guadalajara, Mexico.