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Growers can fill demand for ethnic greens, herbs

By DOROTHY NOBLE
AFP Correspondent

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (June 15, 2014) —  At a workshop focused on the opportunities of marketing ethnic greens and herbs on the East Coast, Rutgers Professor James E. Simon presented field trial data on numerous products.
The multidisciplinary project, directed by Rutgers Professor Ramu Govindasamy, assessed the potential of marketing local greens and herbs to Asian Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Chinese groups.
Field trials were conducted in Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey in 2011 and 2012.
Numerous greens and herbs performed well. In most instances, two and even three crops were harvested in New Jersey as well as in the other two states.
Simon said the attributes of specific varieties can be important — he advised contacting members of the ethnic groups to determine their needs in order to produce the most desirable cultivar.
For the Asian Indian market, amaranth, fenugreek, lemon balm, malabar spinach, radish leaves, sorrel and Swiss chard were noted.
Several varieties of amaranth, including red and tricolor, were evaluated. Red Leaf is available widely, while some African cultivars are unavailable to U.S. distributors.
Simon said the best variety should be further tested. Uniformity and vigor were very good with three harvests.
Excellent yields resulted, and some varieties could be harvested weekly.
Production was challenging for fenugreek.
Some plants produced no pods for a second harvest; plus, other plants died.
Lemon balm grew slowly from seed.
Simon recommended using transplants.
However, once established it proved to be an easy crop. Both uniformity and vigor were very good, and yields were high.
Malabar spinach produced high yields with two harvests. Regrowth was outstanding.
Uniformity and vigor were excellent.
However, trellising was necessary.
Several colors of radishes were grown to market their leaves.
Simon noted that the purple varieties were more desirable.
In New Jersey, quality and yields were exceptional.
Simon cautioned that the leaves would likely be overmature when the radish root has developed.
Sorrel had poor germination but outstanding growth with excellent yields.
Japanese beetles were attracted, but the plant tolerated them.
With three harvests, sorrel looked promising. Jamaican sorrel required greater varieties and seed sources.
The cultivar trialled could be grown in New Jersey for fresh market leaves.
Swiss chard, variety ‘Bright Yellow,’ produced high yields easily. Simon advised handling it similar to other New Jersey greens.
Dandelion is desired among the Puerto Rican markets. Some New Jersey growers, especially if organic, already grow an Italian variety. Vigor was excellent.
Three harvests yielded consistently.
The leaves become more bitter in hot weather and when harvested late.
In Mexican markets, specific herb varieties are preferred. Mexican coriander produced uniformly. Vigor also ranked well.
Simon observed that transplants are desirable.
Also, he remarked that the plant is effective as an ornamental.
Epazote demonstrated high vigor and uniformity.
This plant was harvested at about four inches — higher than most of the other herbs trialled.
Mexican oregano produced uniform plants but the yield was low. It has a strong, spicy aroma and a minty spicy flavor.
Cuban oregano had a more lemony flavor.
Purslane, with a spicy, onion flavor, showed poor regrowth. Yet, observed Simon, it has promise. It was harvested three times both with and without roots.
Yellow purslane delivered higher and more consistent yields than red purslane. Also, it is more succulent.
However, it is susceptible to flea beetle damage.
Magenta spreen had good quality and the growth was robust. However, germination was low, and the purple coloration was lost after three cuttings.
Many different cultivars of numerous greens are demanded and produced for the Oriental markets, including bok choi, chives, leeks and mustard.
Baby bok choi, quincy choi and Shanghai bok choy typically produced well with high vigor.
However, flea beetle damage can be problematic.
After a slow start, chives demonstrated rapid regrowth. Overall, yields were good.
Simon noted that growers should determine whether harvesting should be performed before or after flowering.
Garland chrysanthemum was ranked only fair for vigor. Simon suggested that it is appropriate for market niches.
Chinese mustard produced uniform, consistent yields with minor insect damage.
Although the trials noted data for specific harvests, many of the greens and herbs can be harvested repeatedly throughout the season.
Also, pests can vary with the season and among regions. Simon urged pest monitoring.
It should be noted that several of the greens and herbs appeal to various ethnic groups.
The seed sources in the project included Azure Seed Co., David’s Garden Seeds, Eden Brothers Seed Co., Evergreen Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Co. and Richters Herbs.
Simon pointed out that these greens and herbs can be shown to be nutritious and healthy, which helps drive market and consumer interests and consequently, demand.
Chefs, cooking shows and ‘foodies’ which actively seek new foods and flavors stimulate demand.

Simon also encouraged stressing the attractive visual appearances of the products’ unique color, shape and texture.