Yuma County is sometimes referred to as the Winter Lettuce Capital of the nation. And it's known of other winter produce like broccoli and cauliflower, as well as its citrus.
But the area's fertile fields spawn a host of other crops you might not have suspected grew here, or might not have heard of.
In facts, crops from A to Z grow in Yuma County - literally.
Kurt Nolte, director of the Yuma County Cooperative Extension, has compiled the following information about them and supplied the accompanying photographs for Southwest Living.
Apples are typically grown as a niche market specialty crop in the Yuma area, owing to warm winters that do not lend themselves to large-scale production of the fruit. Nonetheless, area growers who choose apple varieties with low chilling requirements can produce good, tasty fruit.
Research shows that a person can reduce the likelihood of getting lung cancer, the more apples he or she eats. But don't remove the peel; it contains more than two-thirds of the fruit's antioxidants, which help to reduce cell damage that can lead to some diseases.
Broccoli grows best in areas with cool climates and moist soil, making it one of Yuma County's principal crops from November through March.
It is known as the “Crown of Jewel Nutrition” because it is rich in vitamins and minerals, among them vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, iron and fiber. Broccoli has as much calcium per ounce as milk, and contains important cancer-fighting properties.
Yuma County has two growing seasons for cantaloupe, with the bulk of production coming in the spring.
A one-quarter serving of cantaloupe typically provides more than 400 percent of a person's daily recommended vitamin A and nearly 100 percent of daily vitamin C. And it comes at a small price to those watching their weight: a 6-ounce slide contains 50 calories.
The longer a cantaloupe stays on the vine, the sweeter the flavor. For the best flavor, let a cantaloupe sit at room temperature — but not in the window — until it is ripe. If you like your cantaloupe cold, put it into the refrigerator after it has ripened.
Believed to be native to Arabia and North Africa, dates have been a principal food in many desert and tropical regions since the earliest times. A number of varieties are grown in the Yuma area, with the best known being Medjool dates.
Date palms can tolerate long periods of drought, but for heavy bearing, they require lots of water. They also require full sun to produce.
Dates can be stored at room temperature for up to two months, in the refrigerator for up to one year, or in the freezer for several years. The average date has 23 calories but no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
A variation of chicory, endive has three main varieties: frisée, curly endive and escarole. Rich in many vitamins and minerals and high in fiber, endive is used mainly in salads, but also can be cooked briefly or used in soups.
Endive resembles dandelion leaves, and should be fresh, free of brown streaks or spots. Young, tender leaves are preferred over older, tougher leaves.
A minor crop in Yuma County, figs trace their origins to the region between Asia Minor and India, where they are still grown in large quantities. Figs are rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Figs need a warm to hot growing season.
Grapefruit are one of the citrus crops grown in Yuma County. There are three main types of grapefruit: white, pink/red and star ruby/rio.
The pink or red variety contains more vitamins than the white. Pink grapefruit gets its color from carotenoids, which are partially converted in the body to vitamin A. Thus, eating pink grapefruit adds vitamin A to your diet.
Yuma County is the No. 1 producer of honeydew melons in Arizona, which Arizona ranks second in production behind California.
The sweetest of all melons, honeydews are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and are cholesterol-free and low in sodium. Honeydews also contain a foliate, well known for its power to prevent birth defects and thus important to women of child-bearing age.
Honeydews are a versatile treat that can be used as an ingredient in salads, side dishes, entrees and drinks. Seeds can be dried, roasted or pressed into seed oil, while the rind can be cooked or pickled.
Like most melons, honeydews taste better if left unrefrigerated for a few days. Whole ones keep fresh for up to one week when refrigerated.
A minor crop in the Yuma area, Italian squash is a variety of summer squash, either planted in March for a May harvest, or in mid-August for a fall harvest.
It is tender and tasty when young and, like other squash varieties, is a good source of minerals, carotenes and vitamin A.
The versatile Italian squash may be boiled, steamed, microwaved, baked, stuffed, pickled, deep-fried, sautéed, grilled or fried. Baby Italian squash are so mild and tender, they can also be eaten raw. To store, refrigerate in a plastic bag. Do not wash until just before preparation.
Most of Yuma-area production of jojoba occurs in the east half of the county. Grown for the liquid wax contained in its seeds, jojoba is commonly added to soaps, shampoos and cosmetics.
Like other greens, kale descends from wild cabbage that originated in Asia Minor.
One cup of kale provides more than the daily requirement of vitamins A and C. It is also a good source of calcium and fiber, plus sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.
Boiling decreases the level of the anti-cancer compounds, but steaming, microwaving, or stir frying do not result in significant loss.
Kale freezes well and actually tastes sweeter and more flavorful after being exposed to a frost. Tender kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads, particularly when combined with other such strongly flavored ingredients as dry-roasted peanuts, tamari-roasted almonds or red pepper flakes.
There are two main types of lettuce: head lettuce, and leaf lettuce. Head lettuce includes iceberg, butterhead and romaine varieties, while leaf lettuce comes in a variety of shapes and colors. A mix of lettuce and other greens called Mesclun mix is grown for the high end restaurant market.
Yuma-grown head lettuce represents about 95 percent of the United States' winter lettuce production, averaging over 45,000 planted acres per year. Meanwhile. leaf lettuce is the third-ranking crop grown in the county, based on gross farmgate receipts.
Iceberg lettuce doesn't offer much nutritionally, but loose leaf lettuce is nutrient rich, providing 5 to 6 times the amount of vitamin A and five to 10 times the vitamin A offered by iceberg. Butterhead types are also are good sources of folate, which helps prevent birth defects and may decrease risk of heart disease.
Originated in the Mediterranean, Mustard greens today are a minor crop in the Yuma area.
The most pungent of the cooking greens, they lend a peppery flavor to food. They can be blanched, sautéed, boiled or streamed, or eaten raw.
Mustard greens are an excellent source of both vitamins A and C, and contain several other vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and protein. The cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed mustard greens is second only to steamed collard greens and steamed kale, according to a recent study of cruciferous vegetables.
Nectarine acreage in the Yuma area is small in number and primarily devoted to niche production. A fuzzless variety of peach, nectarine fruit can be white, yellow, orange or red in color.
Nectarines are loaded with health benefits, such as antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium.
Besides being eaten out of hand, they can be used in salads, in a variety of fresh and cooked desserts, and as a garnish for many hot and cold dishes.
If buying fruit to eat the same day, look for fruit that is soft, gives to gentle palm pressure and has a sweet aroma. To ripen a nectarine, place the fruit in a paper bag, fold the top over loosely, and keep at room temperature for one to three days.
Related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock, okra is grown primarily as a seed crop in Yuma County.
Its tender, unripe seed pods have a flavor resembling across between asparagus and eggplant, and when cut, they exude a thick and sticky juice used to thicken stews.
Okra also can be sautéed or fried. Young, tender pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded with corn meal and fried.
Okra can also be steamed, baked, pickled, boiled or stewed.
A niche crop in Yuma area, peaches are a member of the rose family, and were first cultivated in China.
Peaches area good source of vitamins A, B and C, and a medium peach contains 37 calories. Peaches should be tree-ripened when harvested, yellowish in color, soft and fragrant. Fruit picked green won't ripen.
To keep from bruising its soft skin, a peach should be picked using the sides of the fingers, not the fingertips. Grab the peach firmly and pull it straight off the branch.
Radishes are grown in the Yuma area as part of the winter vegetable production. As gardeners know, radishes can be grown wherever there is sun and moist and fertile soil. Radishes that taste hot are the result of soil that is either too dry or too hot in temperature - above 90 degrees.
Radishes are high in vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. These vitamins and minerals are good for healing cuts and bruises, keeping the memory sharp and maintaining fluid body balance.
Believed to have originated in Persia, spinach has been a commonly used vegetable in the United States since the early 19th century. Today it is the No. 6 ranking vegetable crop grown in Yuma County.
Spinach provides at least 50 pecent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and about 20 percent of that for vitamin C. Spinach is also good source of iron, calcium and folate.
People think of it as a vegetable, but the tomato, botanically speaking, is a fruit. While Yuma County tomato acreage is relatively small, the production of tomato transplants within the county is a vital part of tomato production in other areas.
Tomatoes first grew as wild, cherry-size berries in the Andes, but the fruit, as it is known today, was developed in Mexico and traveled to Europe by boat with the returning Spanish conquistadors.
“The Joy of Cooking” lists 64 tomato recipes, and this versatile fruit end up in everything from pasta and pizza to Bloody Marys to barbecue sauce, and can be stuffed, boiled, stewed, pureed, deviled, glazed, pickled, grilled and fried.
With warm spring temperatures, hot summers and dry falls, Yuma County is a prime location for upland cotton production. Cotton acreage in the area increased for the first time in about five years in 2010, topping out at about 15,000 acres.
Upland cotton is a unique crop in that it is both food and fiber. Cottonseed is used as a supplement for dairy feed and is also processed into oil. Uses for cotton fibers range from heavy industrial to fine fabrics.
A total of about 250 acres of valencia oranges are under cultivation annually in Yuma County. The oranges are available February through October, with peak supplies in May, June and July. The late season citrus variety is known for its sweet and colorful juice.
In 2009, melon producers in Yuma County grew more than 1,000 acres of watermelons, valued at more than $7.6 million. Yuma County is the leading producer of watermelons in the state.
Native to the Kalahari desert of southern Africa, watermelon does not contain any fat or cholesterol, is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 and C, and contains fiber, potassium and lycopene. Every part of the watermelon is edible, even the seeds and rinds.
In Yuma County, yellow squash acreage is small, but overall acreage totals about 10,000. There are a number of varieties grown.
Summer squash have a very mild, nutty taste, sometimes resembling fresh corn. In addition, immature winter squashes, such as the acorn, can be eaten like summer squashes while they are still tender. Summer crooknecks are yellow and usually have a smooth skin. Some have a pebbled texture and some have no crook at all.
The term “summer” and “winter” for squash are only based on current usage, not on actuality. “Summer” types are on the market all winter; “winter” types are on the markets in the late summer and fall, as well as winter.
Zucchini is a variety of summer squash. It is tender and tasty when young, but most varieties tend to become tasteless when large and overgrown.
In Yuma County, zucchini is a rather minor crop, with only about 50 acres in production. The squash are planted in early March for a early May harvest.
Zucchini has four notable qualities: it is abundant, it is low in calories, it is a good source of fiber and versatile!