Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘farm’ Category

Heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings in the foreground, and a forest of ginger and turmeric in the back.

Heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings in the foreground, and a forest of ginger and turmeric in the back.

A few days ago I paid a visit to Bee Heaven Farm, and took a peek inside the big, new greenhouse. What I saw was amazing — a sea of vegetable and herb seedlings growing in flats of little black plastic pots. They filled almost one half of the 60 foot wide by 90 foot long greenhouse. In the other half of the greenhouse was a double row easily 60 feet long, of larger plants, mostly ginger and turmeric, growing in large felt pots.

I lost count of how many plants I was looking at, so let’s just say that there was about 250 square feet of young plants and seedlings. That’s a lot more than what Farmer Margie Pikarsky had started this time last year, growing plants on long benches made of recycled wooden pallets.

Almost all these young plants are destined for the farm’s seedling sale at Redland GrowFest! which is coming up this weekend. The sale is the heart and purpose of the festival, started and run by Margie, which celebrates all things local and growing.

As I strolled up and down the greenhouse rows taking pictures, I stopped here and there to read the labels. Herbs include Cuban oregano, basil, lemongrass and cilantro. Hotheads will rejoice to see a wide variety of peppers, both hot and mild — datil, bird, bishop’s crown, hot thai, wiri wiri, Anaheim, Jimmy Nardello and cachucha, to name a few.

Heirloom tomato seedlings.

Heirloom tomato seedlings.

And fans of heirloom tomatoes have the usual wide assortment to choose from. Shapes and colors range from large, small, pear shaped, oval, round, yellow, orange, black, green striped, and of course classic red round and plum. The names of the heirloom tomatoes are just as varied — green envy, Juliet, podland pink, Ukrainian purple, black krim, sweet million, sunset pear, Japanese oxheart, garden peach (yes, a fuzzy tomato!), Arkansas traveler. These are tried and true varieties that do well in our South Florida heat and humidity, and which Margie plants on her farm season after season.

Both the farm and the Fruit and Spice Park, where Redland GrowFest! is held, are inside the Oriental Fruit Fly (OFF) quarantine zone. I asked Margie if that was going to create a problem. She explained that it’s business as usual this year. “There’s no drastic changes this year. Seedlings and plants without fruit are not an issue,” she told me. “Greens and herbs are ok too.”

To make sure that everything is safe, and no flies are found, Margie explained that all plant and fruit vendors had to sign an FDACS compliance agreement that stated they are taking all required precautions against the OFF. “Fruit has to be covered to provide protection for the potential host material.” Fruits in season now are avocados, guavas, carambola and pitaya, and they will have to be kept inside fine mesh screening or plastic containers to keep the dangerous little flies away. The OFF lays its eggs inside fruit. No fruit — or no access to fruit — there’s no fly and no problem. The only thing that visitors can’t do is bring fallen fruit out of the park.

Dried bananas are sweet, chewy, and full of real banana flavor.

Dried bananas are sweet, chewy, and full of real banana flavor.

You won’t find fresh fruit at the Bee Heaven Farm tent. “Dried fruit is my thing,” Margie said, and her fruit dryer has been humming night and day this summer. She is offering a choice of dried carambola, mamey, mango, persimmon, or bananas, and a mixed assortment called Fruits of Summer. Fruit that has been processed in some way — dried, or made into jam, for example — is safe against the fly.

So come to the festival to buy seedlings and plants for your garden this growing season, and stay to listen to live music, and eat delicious local food. There’s a full schedule of live demos and presentations given by gardening and plant experts who will share a wealth of knowledge — all included in the price of admission! It’s the fourth year for Redland GrowFest! and it looks like it’s going to be the best year so far.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

GrowFest-logo-2
FEATURED SPEAKER: Jim Ewing, former president of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, will be presenting on two topics:
 
Creating an Edible Forest on a Permaculture Model. Jim outlines various layouts and strategies for incorporating perennials into a traditional growing layout, providing a more natural, stress-free food production area. Human beings have been doing this — prior to modern industrial agriculture — for millennia, from the birth of human kind on the savannahs of Africa.
Sunday, October 18 at 10:00 am
 
Selling Your Crop: Tips for Small Producers. Calling his techniques “guerilla marketing,” Jim gives tips for small producers to increase sales through various strategies — cheaply! — using social media, targeting markets and objectively weighing and maximizing options for one’s unique situation.
Sunday, October 18 at 1:00 pm
 
 A former organic farmer, Jim serves or has served with numerous ag, food system and environmental organizations, and is currently on the administrative council and a member of the executive committee of the 15-state Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE USDA) program that serves Florida. He is the author of seven books, including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating.

 

Read Full Post »

Written by Sheryl Dutton
Photos courtesy of Sheryl Dutton

I came across a unique opportunity one day last spring, as I drove around Redland. I had been living in the area for roughly a year, dreaming of starting my own organic farm and homestead. Farming had been a hobby of mine for some time and although my projects had been confined to small plots, I was driven by big ideas. I wanted more experience, working with the land and learning how to turn my love of farming into a possible business. I had recently visited Robert Barnum of Possum Trot Farm to gather fruit and art supplies from his 40-acre grove of rare and useful trees. While I was there, I decided to ask Robert if he needed an apprentice or knew of any opportunities to learn more about farming. Luckily he said yes. He mentioned a New Farmer Apprenticeship Program offered by Florida International University’s Agroecology department, funded by a USDA grant. I got in touch with the program director and applied right away.

The New Farmer Apprenticeship Program included a variety of monthly workshops and 100 hours of field experience. I attended workshops on topics like beekeeping, laurel wilt disease detection, how to apply for farm loans, grants and more. I got to meet many young, prospective farmers with similar goals as mine and the same insatiable thirst for knowledge. For my fieldwork I chose to go to Bee Heaven and Possum Trot, both established Redland farms within 5 miles of my home.

Sheryl and her two boys, attending Farm Day 2013, at Bee Heaven Farm.

Sheryl and her two boys, attending Farm Day 2013, at Bee Heaven Farm.

I started out with Margie Pikarsky on her 5 acre certified organic Bee Heaven Farm. I had been a member of her highly recommended CSA program for about 4 years and had attended events there with my family. I was familiar with the farm and knew I had a lot to learn from Margie. We had spoken many times about our favorite plants, our adventures with chickens and other things when I’d pick up my produce every Saturday. I knew she ran a very organized and well-managed farm but I didn’t know exactly what was involved until I had the chance to work side by side with her and her staff. I got to experience part of the busy CSA season, how all the orders came in, were distributed and then prepared to take to market. Some days we’d work in the packinghouse and fill hundreds of orders, other days we’d work out in the field harvesting or preparing the beds for new crops. Everything about her farm is carefully planned out, solidified by many years of experience and held to a very high standard. I likened her operation to a well-oiled machine, always recalibrating to the whims of Mother Nature.

Sheryl, Robert and John

Sheryl, Robert and John

Then I switched gears, moving on to what would be an unforgettable experience at Possum Trot Farm with Robert Barnum. I had heard many stories about the 40-acre wonderland from friends of mine and after visiting a few times, my interest was piqued. Robert’s collection of rare, edible and useful tree species is quite special.

The mix of mature trees living there are the result of many decades of work, collecting, preserving, selecting and sometimes naming new varieties. He proudly refers to himself as a land steward of the many fruits, nuts, hardwoods, citrus and more that he has cared for throughout his life. For me and the other apprentices that worked there, Possum Trot was an ideal outdoor classroom and Robert’s unique approach to mentoring was a one of a kind experience. Each day was a new adventure. One day we’d be identifying trees, harvesting or cleaning up the nursery, another day we’d be attending an auction, repairing equipment or cooking up interesting meals in his kitchen. Every conversation was educational and I’d say that I definitely learned more than I bargained for!

Nursery maintenance, Possum Trot

Nursery maintenance, Possum Trot

The overall message I gleaned from my time at Bee Heaven and Possum Trot confirmed what I knew but in my hopeful naivety had not accepted. Farming for profit, no matter what angle you come at it, is hard work with unpredictable returns and a multitude of political obstacles to navigate. In my opinion farming has got to be one of the most underappreciated and underpaid professions out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are many successful farmers out there, making a living and making a difference. In no way do I mean to undermine them, but for the most part, the industrial food system (big agriculture) has stacked the odds against local, small farmers. In a way it has forced them to be more innovative. There is a growing trend to eat local and organic, to avoid GMOs and packaged foods. We’re getting back to the basics of fresh, nutrient rich foods like our great grandparents enjoyed. Our health as individuals and as a culture depends on it.

Beekeeping workshop

Beekeeping workshop

Maybe more importantly than the effect our food system has on people, are the long lasting, possibly irreversible effects that conventional farming practices are having on the environment. Small scale, intensive farming has been proven to be more sustainable over time when compared to conventional single crop farming. Widespread uses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have been described by many as an attack on the living world. Conventional farming practices not only pollute the air, water and soil but also pollute the bodies of all living things. Turning a blind eye is not an option.

I wasn’t able to complete my apprenticeship with FIU for personal reasons but I did greatly appreciate the chance to get a behind the scenes look at some of the farms and farmers I had come to admire over the years. The experience did however alter my plans of starting my own organic farm in Redland. After meeting some second-generation farmers in the area and hearing their stories of growing up in Homestead, I questioned whether it would be the best thing for my family. I had to ask myself, “Was farming the kind of future I wanted for my children? Was starting an organic farm a sound investment that I could manage with predictable returns?” My answer to both was an unfortunate no. I decided that I was content to be an avid collector of plants and trees, a small scale, backyard farmer and a supporter of local food. I get to work out my big ideas and make a positive impact in other ways.

View from Poindexter's tailgate

View from Poindexter’s tailgate

I feel like there is a lot of work to do in this area in what might be the most important shift of our generation: Transitioning from being mass consumers to abundant producers, reworking our value system into something that directly benefits us rather than distracts us, utilizing our land in ways that support our health and wellness without disrupting the ability of the natural world to support all life for generations to come. Like I said, big ideas and while we’re at it, why not reinvent what it means to be a farmer in a changing world. The New Farmer Apprenticeship position through FIU’s Agroecology Program addressed just that. It was a valuable experience for me that helped shape my future plans and solidify my understanding of the local food system where I live and beyond. All stereotypes aside, farmers have the job of feeding us all. It’s a big responsibility and they deserve our support! Eat up!

Sheryl Dutton

Sheryl Dutton

Sheryl Dutton currently lives in Miami with her family and works as a Permaculture Designer, specializing in the design and installation of tropical fruit groves, edible forest gardens and small kitchen gardens. Sheryl is the owner of Earthscape Art & Design and is available for consultations.

 

Read Full Post »

Earlier in September, I conducted an email interview with farmer Margie Pikarsky about the Oriental Fruit Fly quarantine, and how it impacts the Bee Heaven Farm CSA and the upcoming Redlands GrowFest!

Q: How does this quarantine affect Bee Heaven Farm and the CSA? What are you growing that’s affected?

MP: Luckily, this is just as farmers are gearing up for the start of the winter growing season, there is not much exposure to row crops, and plenty of time to put preventive treatment programs in place before harvesting begins of susceptible crops like squashes, tomatoes and beans. We are starting treatment with Spinosad as soon as we can get our hands on it, beginning the 30-day countdown.

As far as BHF, we’re essentially done with avocado harvest. Carambolas will be dehydrated, seagrapes are already harvested and frozen awaiting delivery, items previously harvested were already delivered. Guavas will be pulped and frozen or dehydrated, allspice berries have been harvested and frozen.

I don’t anticipate much problem with the CSA. I have to take precautions with incoming listed items (they are kept in protected storage, coolers are sealed), offloaded when they’re going to be packed, and packed and transported in a protected manner, in a sealed truck). Listed veggies include squashes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, beans.

Q: How does the quarantine affect the upcoming Redland GrowFest!?

Seedlings and fruiting plants that are currently NOT bearing fruit are not controlled. So we can sell our seedlings with no problem. Fruit trees, as long as they are stripped of any fruit (no matter how tiny), can be sold as well, so GrowFest! will be able to go off with minimal disruption.

In fact, listed items coming in from outside the quarantine area (currently, Health and Happiness Farm, Verde Farm, and Paradise Farms, for example, are outside the QA), can be sold, as long as they are protected. Displays can be protected by using a screened enclosure or other covering (this applies to fruit stands). The screening cannot touch the fruit, and the mesh has to be <4mm. I’m sure we’ll think of creative ways to pre-pack/bag listed items, but remember a lot of things like baby greens and herbs, for example, will not require any special handling.

Q: How long is this quarantine in place?

MP: The quarantine is in place for a minimum of 2 life cycles of the fly. First one is 30 days, second one is 32. If a third is needed, it would probably be 45 days, as their life expectancy lengthens with lower temperatures.

Q: What do you and other growers in the quarantine area have to do?

MP: Everyone within the quarantine area is asked to meet with FDACS OFF eradication program inspectors and enter into a compliance agreement, which spells out what they need to do. There are separate sections for growers (including homeowners), harvesters, packers, shippers, processors, lawn service/tree maintenance, sellers and dealers, charity (gleaners, soup kitchens), etc.

If you are outside the quarantine area, it’s business as usual, except that a) you have to protect any listed product going into or transiting through the quarantine area, you cannot receive listed product grown within the quarantine area without proof of treatment and compliance, and it must arrive fully protected (safely enclosed).

If you are inside the quarantine area, you cannot move listed product off your property unless it has been treated. There are 2 options: a) pre-harvest treatment for 30 days (with no positive finds near you during that time), or b) post-harvest treatment.

Post harvest treatments are limited here. Organic growers essentially have only the pre-harvest treatment option open. Chilling is an option, but unrealistic, except perhaps for carambola. There are a couple of other possibilities. You can consume the items on-site. You can process the items (freeze, dry, cook, grind), and then they are free to move off-farm and out of the quarantine area.

Other options that may be available to non-organic growers may include a combination of cold and fumigation, but it looks like only a fumigation treatment is available for avocados, as they cannot take cold storage in the temps or times required. TREC is looking at some short treatments. If they achieve kills and they can replicate the results, they may be able to approve it.

Q: Where did they find the fruit fly, and when?

MP: The core of the quarantine area is 1.5 miles around the positive finds. They are pretty much within about 1/2 mile of each other, roughly centered around 100-200 Avenues between 180-188 Streets. In these areas, multiple male flies were trapped (the highest something like 45 in 1 day). There were a couple of locations where larva were found. There was a female trapped as well.

In the areas around positive finds, anything on the list is stripped of fruit. The fruit is disposed of in an approved manner that prevents contamination. Traps to catch females are set. Soil surrounding positive finds is drenched with an approved pesticide (there are three, one of which is a Spinosad product approved for use in organic production), and surrounding trees are sprayed with the treatment (which is a bait). Male pheromone traps and female yeast traps re placed in the area. Utility poles are also sprayed up high. The OFF is a strong flyer.

Q: What else do CSA members and farm customers need to know about the OFF?

MP: The biggest single thing I’d say is: unless it’s already processed (jams and jellies, baked in bread, etc) don’t give away fruit, don’t accept fruit from someone else. Don’t say “I’m going to take this because it’s fine. Look, there’s no bugs on it! He’s my friend and I know he takes care of his plants. One will be OK.” No. This fly doesn’t care how well you take care of your plants, and you can’t see the eggs inside the fruit. It has no natural enemies here.

This is ONLY for a limited time. It’s imperative we get rid of this fly. It’s absolutely the worst pest. I’m sure most folks have heard about the Medfly – well, the list [of host plants] for that is maybe 20 lines long. The list for this fly is 13 PAGES long! Every fruit you can imagine is on it, every fruiting vegetable is on it, and many ornamentals too – even Ylang Ylang, for example.

We cannot allow this fly to become established here, because if it does, it will be truly devastating. So everyone tighten their belts for a couple of months and work together to do this.

Read Full Post »

Article by Margie Pikarsky,
owner of Bee Heaven Farm, Redland FL

You’ve probably heard about the recent quarantine imposed on over 80 square miles of our Redland agricultural area. It’s because of what might be the absolute worst pest imaginable in a single package. Why? The Oriental Fruit Fly eats anything that even remotely looks like a fruit, and some other things too. It’s not from here, so there are no natural enemies.

Remember the Mediterranean fruit fly scares and quarantines? Well, the Medfly has a list of about 20 “host materials”, fruits. The Oriental Fruit Fly has a 14 PAGE list of just about every fruit you can think of, fruiting veggies like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumber, luffa, snap beans, and even some ornamentals like jasmine, brugmansia, orchids and Ylang-Ylang. Get the idea just how devastating this fly could be if it gained a foothold here?

The Department of Agriculture monitors sentinel traps for several species of exotic pest flies, each baited with an irresistible sex lure that will draw in a fly if it’s somewhere in the vicinity. (Don’t worry, it’s not going to bring in flies where they aren’t already hanging around.) You may have seen some of these white triangular traps hanging on trees here and there. They’ve been around for years, silently guarding our crops from outbreaks.

Every once in a while, a fly shows up in a trap. Then FDACS goes on alert, sets out a bunch more traps around the area of the find, and monitors. Usually no more are found, and that is that.

This time, however, they found 5 locations close to each other where there this fly had set up shop, and they found, not just 1 fly, but at the worst location, 45 in a single trap! This meant they were breeding. It was a call to mobilize. You’ve never seen government agents, both from USDA and from FDACS, move so fast into position to set more traps and start canvassing the area to find out exactly where they are. Following a proven protocol, they defined a core boundary area within 1/2 mile of each find, a larger treatment area around the cores, and declared a quarantine area reaching out 4.5 miles in every direction from the core area. And they’ve stepped up monitoring a little outside the quarantine area too, just in case.

The absolute best way to treat this kind of invasion, they’ve found, is to use these same irresistible lures in baited traps. For the Oriental Fruit Fly (OFF), the lure is methyl eugenol, a naturally occurring substance that acts as a pheromone male OFF flies simply cannot resist. Where they have found females, a different type of trap, using a yeast-based lure, is set. Nearby trees are stripped of their fruit, and the soil beneath and around the immediate area is drenched with a poison to kill larva. Why the soil? Well, the female lays eggs in the fruit. The larva hatch, and before they’re ready to pupate, they fall to the ground and move into the soil. There they hatch into new flies. So to make sure the cycle is completely broken, they have to poison the soil. Sad but necessary.

In the meantime, fruit is NOT allowed to move around in the quarantine area, unless and until it is treated is a way to eliminate the possibility of inadvertently spreading the flies.

What does this mean to you? If you’re a homeowner in the quarantine area or have friends who live there, the simplest, best thing while the quarantine is in effect is:

1) Do not take fresh fruit off your property.
2) Do not accept fresh fruit from another property, not even your nana’s house.
3) Eat it on the property – have food parties!
4) Process it in your kitchen – freeze it, juice it, cook it, make jams & jellies. Once you’ve done that, you can take the finished product off the property without fear.
5) Dispose of all scraps and peelings in the approved way – double-bagged, sealed and placed in a covered garbage can that will go to the landfill.

For commercial or hobby growers, if you anticipate a large crop of something that is one of the 400+ listed hosts (avocados, squash, pitaya, for example), you can start a 30-day pre-harvest treatment protocol. Once 30 days have passed AND no flies were found near you, you can begin to harvest, while continuing the treatment. There are a couple of approved USDA treatment options, once of which IS approved for use in organic production.

The other option when harvesting, is to use a post-harvest treatment. There are very few treatments approved by the USDA for this purpose, and they mainly involve the use of methyl bromide with or without chilling for many days, or irradiation. Each type of fruit has its own protocol, and these treatments are not guaranteed to keep the fruit in good condition! For instance, most Florida avocado varieties simply cannot sit in refrigerator temperatures for days – it spoils the fruit and turns it brown. None of the post-harvest treatments are approved for use in organic production.

Nurseries and gardeners need to be careful. If potted plants are growing underneath fruit trees, the soil in the pots must be drenched with the poison to make sure no larvae dropping from above are lurking in the soil. If the plants are growing in a greenhouse or in the open away from trees, it’s not an issue and no special precautions need to be taken, other than to make sure no fruit is left to grow on the potted plants (young fruit trees shouldn’t be allowed to set fruit anyhow-while attractive to a potential customer, it’s like expecting an 8-year-old to have a child-damaging to the parent.

Anyone involved in production, handling, packing or selling of host plant materials (fruits, fruiting veggies, some ornamentals, palms, etc) in the quarantine zone or needing to transport in or out of the zone, needs to fill out a Compliance Agreement.

For extensive information about the fly, the quarantine areas, maps, rules, available treatments, latest finds, and more visit the Division of Plant Industry website at: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Plant- Industry/Pests-Diseases/Exotic-Fruit-Flies/Oriental-Fruit-Fly-Information

For help in completing the simple compliance agreement, reporting suspect flies, improper movement of fruit, or general information contact the HOTLINE at 888-397-1517.

Read Full Post »

Oriental Fruit Fly

Article written on September 11, 2015 by:

Jeff Wasielewski, Commercial Tropical Fruit Agent, Miami-Dade, UF/IFAS Extension

The Invasion

Sometime before dawn on Wednesday, September 2, 2015, a quarantine went into effect in a 85 square mile area of the Redland housing packing houses, tropical fruit groves, vegetable fields, fruit stands, plant nurseries, and homes. The quarantine is serious business, and a multi-million dollar agricultural industry is at stake.

The quarantine went into effect 24 hours after a public announcement was placed in The Miami Herald, and was prompted by Florida Rule 5B-66, which states “State and federal agricultural officials are mandated to keep the Oriental fruit fly out of this country. Wherever Oriental fruit flies are found in the continental U.S., the pest must be eradicated.”

Tens of thousands of traps lie waiting throughout Florida at any given time with the sole purpose of alerting the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to the presence of the Oriental Fruit fly and other invasive and destructive species of fruit flies. The FDACS website lists seven previous oriental fruit fly finds and subsequent eradications in Florida.

The Oriental fruit fly, Bactrocera dorsalis, is taken extremely seriously because the species has massive host list of 435 plants; they are the strongest fliers of all the fruit flies, and one female fly lays an average of 600 eggs in 30 days. According to Mark Fagan, the public information specialist of the Division of Plant Industry, a specialized division within FDACS, 30% of females can push out a whopping 50 eggs in a single day, or 1,500 eggs in 30 days.

Females lay their eggs in host fruit or vegetables, then the young hatch and feed on the fruit, effectively making the fruit impossible to sell and unpalatable. The larvae then enter the soil below them, pupate, and emerge as flies to begin the cycle yet again. This fly has the power to completely devastate the multi-million dollar agricultural industry in South Florida and trigger regulations that would cripple the industry and put thousands upon thousands of jobs in jeopardy.

Past finds of the Oriental fruit fly did not trigger quarantines because the number of flies was minimal with the previous high being 12 males and 4 females found in Tampa in 1999.

The Redland invasion of 2015 was markedly different because of the extraordinary quantity of flies captured. After finding a lone male fly in a trap on August 17, outside of the quarantine area, FDACS later found an immediately alarming 45 male flies in a single trap on August 28. The historic 45 fly find was located in the heart of our agricultural industry in South Florida. Male flies are the first to be captured because the traps use a pheromone that tricks the males into thinking he is near a receptive female.

Enhanced trapping and scouting soon turned up even more males, as well as a mango fruit infested with Oriental fruit fly larvae. Co-incident Commander Bryan Benson, of FDACS, called these finds, “an unprecedented amount of Oriental fruit flies…with the capacity to devastate the local agricultural industry.”

FDACS, the USDA, Miami-Dade County, UF/IFAS Extension, and the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center have worked together, and readily shared information and resources to educate all interested parties about the rules and effects of the quarantine.

The response from the agricultural industry has been tremendous. The Miami-Dade Extension office has already hosted five workshops dedicated to educating the industry, with over 600 people in attendance that were there just so they could do the right thing and help to stop the fly from spreading.

Quarantine Facts:

• A compliance agreement needs to be filled out and signed, in person, with FDACS regulatory staff for any fruit, vegetable growers, packers, or sellers/stands located within the quarantine area that wish to sell or move any of the 435 host plants, vegetables, or fruits during the quarantine. Parties outside of the quarantine area that want to move produce into the area to pack or sell, must also sign a compliance agreement.

• Some nurseries within the quarantine area need to sign a compliance agreement. You can still buy plants from these nurseries as long as the grower has signed the agreement or is selling a product that is not regulated under the quarantine (soil, mulch, rocks, fish, wood products, or any plants that are not near or under a fruit fly host tree or have host fruit on the plant).

• Homeowners located within the quarantine zone cannot move fruit or vegetables on the host list off of their property. They can grow and eat the produce at their home, but cannot, under any circumstance, move the produce off their property until the quarantine is lifted.

• It is possible to sell and buy produce within the quarantine area if the vendor has signed a compliance agreement and is taking the proper precautions (covering produce with approved mesh, bags or cases). If in doubt, ask the vendor if they have signed a compliance agreement.

• Homeowners and fruit and vegetable growers outside of the quarantine area, or not affected by the quarantine because their crop is not in season, do not have to, or need to, spray any additional pesticides, or bait spray. Baits and sprays are part of the compliance agreement, but do not affect others, especially homeowners, and are not needed or recommended.

Stopping the Oriental Fruit Fly

The rules and regulations regarding the quarantine are difficult to complete and understand, but they are necessary to stop the Oriental fruit fly from jumping out of the quarantine area and making life even harder, if not impossible, for the hardworking farmers and agricultural community of the Redland. These men and women are your neighbors and often visit my office completely drenched in sweat after working countless, difficult hours in the fields tending to their crops.

The silver lining could be the fact that the trap and kill program designed for the Oriental fruit fly is, in the words of DPI’s Mark Fagan, “extraordinary”. FDACS men and women are working seven days a week to hang baited traps, strip trees of fruit in the “hot zone”, and to eradicate this destructive fly completely.

This can all go away if the traps remain empty for two full life cycles of the fly. The lifecycle fluctuates based on climatic conditions with hotter temperatures producing lifecycles around 30 days and cooler temperatures pushing the cycle nearer to 45 days. If all goes well, the quarantine could be over by late November or early December.

The Redland is an area unlike any other on the planet. It is home to an incredible array of tropical fruit and vegetables, with crops as well knows as avocados and squash, and as unique as sugar apples and winged beans. Vegetable fields and fruit groves are intermixed and produce crops side by side tended by people as varied and diverse as the very crops they grow. That one of a kind diversity could be lost if the Oriental fruit fly permanently sets up shop in the Redland, so let’s all work together to not let that happen.

Information:

For the quarantine map, a list of the 435 host plants, a copy of the compliance agreement, and more information on the Oriental fruit fly, visit the Fresh From Florida website.

Call the Fresh From Florida Helpline at 1-888-397-1517 to request to be visited to sign a compliance agreement.

Contact Miami-Dade Extension Commercial Tropical Fruit Agent, Jeff Wasielewski, at 305-248-3311, ext. 227 for more information regarding the quarantine and the compliance agreement.

Download the OFF Quarantine Map.

Download the OFF Host list by scientific name.

Download the FDACS Compliance Agreement Cooperative Fruit Fly Eradication Program

Read Full Post »

Lychees in the morning

Come and get your last taste of lychee sweetness before it’s all gone for the summer! Bee Heaven Farm will be selling Green Grove organic lychees the weekend of June 13th and 14th at the Redland Summer Fruit Festival, located at the Fruit and Spice Park.

Juan, up in the bucket, picking lychhes.

Up in the bucket picking lychees.

As the early morning sun painted dappled golden light on the lychee trees, Steve Green met me at the front gate and let me into his grove. The picking crew of three had already arrived less than an hour before. This was the second picking of the season, and there would be a few more more in May and June before all the fruit was all harvested. I walked down a row of lychee trees and heard Juan, the picker, before I saw him. He stood in the bucket of a yellow machine on wheels with a crane arm (known as a cherry picker) and rose up the side of a tree. A stack of plastic bins was fastened to the side of the bucket, where he put clusters of ripe lychees. Juan started at the top of a tree, and with an experienced eye, checked every cluster for ripeness. He clipped only the ripe clusters and put them into the bin, and angled around the tree to reach more fruit.

Clusters of lychees ripening in the morning sun.

Clusters of lychees ripening in the morning sun.

You can’t tell by the color when a lychee is ripe. “When they are ready, lychees get rounder, and the little spikes in the skin flatten out,” Steve explained to me as he rubbed his thumb over the rough skin of a lychee he took from a bin. “Ripeness depends on how much sun and rain the fruit gets. Not all the fruit on a tree will ripen at the same time,” he added. Steve knows when the fruit is ripe to pick by tasting a few when the time comes. “An unripe fruit has some bitterness and too much acidity,” he said, “while a ripe fruit has a balance of tart and sweet.” He cracked the skin with a bite, then peeled and tasted. “One more day and it’ll be perfect. But I like mine a little on the sour side.” He handed me a lychee, and for me it was not too sour and just the right amount of sweet.

Grower Steve Green getting ready to taste a lychee for ripeness.

Grower Steve Green getting ready to taste a lychee for ripeness.

Steve’s dogs can also tell when it’s time to pick. “When the lychees are ripe, they’ll pull some fruit down from the low hanging branches of the trees,” Steve said. “They will make a small stash, and then eat the fruit, but not the skins or pits.” His dogs earn their keep by chasing after squirrels, possum and other intruders that also like to eat fruit.

Jose, the runner, gathers picked lychees.

Gathering picked lychees.

The second man on the crew, Jose, was the runner. He brought more empty bins to the picker, and returned full bins back to the packing table set up beside the farm house. Because this is a certified organic grove, everything that comes into contact with the fruit — the cherry picker, wheelbarrow, table, and all the bins — had been triple sanitized to meet organic standards.

Leticia removes fruit from the clusters, in preparation for sorting and packing.

Leticia removes fruit from the clusters.

Jose dumped a full bin onto the work table, where Leticia, the experienced crew boss and packer, plucked each fruit from its cluster. Her job was to sort the fruit, separating the perfect ones from the less perfect. The lychees that were ripe and pretty went off to one side of the table, to be packed into pint-size plastic clamshells, twelve pints to a box.

The fruits that were split or stained went into a bin off to the other side. Those were graded number twos, and were just as tasty but not as pretty. “The brown spots on the skin of a lychee fruit are called coffee stains,” explained Steve. “They happen when the sugar leaks out that area develops a stain.”

Lychees going from the branch to the bin.

Lychees going from branch to bin.

Back in the grove, Juan, the man in the picking machine, maneuvered around a few trees that didn’t have any fruit on them. Occasionally some trees just won’t bear fruit, even though other trees in the grove are loaded. This season, Steve estimated that his harvest was below average. “A good year is when every tree is loaded,” he said. “I expect to pack out about two thousand pounds this year. In a really good year I’ll pack out fifteen thousand pounds.” On that particular day, they expected to pick 600 pounds of lychees, or 720 pint containers full.

Trees loaded with fruit ripening in the sun.

Trees loaded with fruit ripening in the sun.

Lychee trees are notoriously temperamental. They need the perfect set of circumstances in the winter — a dry winter with enough hours of sufficiently cool temperature or else they just won’t bear in the summer. The whole grove can easily go several years without bearing fruit. When lychee trees do bear, their season is short, four to five weeks on average. Picking usually starts in mid to late May. All of these factors combined make for high retail prices for fresh fruit.

Available at local Whole Foods Markets.

Available at local Whole Foods Markets.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the fruit picking and packing went on. Most of this day’s harvest was going to local Whole Foods stores, the rest to an organic wholesaler. “The Pinecrest produce manager  ordered them and  put them on display in their organic produce section,” Steve said of his pint boxes of lychees, “and the other stores can get them from their regional warehouse.” (I’ve seen Green Grove lychees at the Aventura store.) The number two fruits that were stained but not split were destined for the Bee Heaven Farm web store. (The splits are given to lychee-hungry friends who drop by at the end of harvest days.)

Green Grove lychees are certified organic, so Steve can command higher prices than growers who do not follow such strict growing practices to receive USDA certification. But the extra income goes to pay for extra labor and materials used to control weeds, pests, and diseases. Approved treatments are more expensive,  not as effective, and need to be applied more often. Weeding is done by hand rather than using any herbicide. An organic grower can’t use conventional chemical sprays or fertilizers.

Picking lychees with a cherry picker.

Picking lychees with a cherry picker.

On a walk through the grove, Steve pointed out a handful of trees that had been attacked by two different pests — one group by lychee bark scale insect, and a few others by the Sri Lanka weevil. Scale sucks sap and kills branches, and the weevil cuts notches along the edges of the leaves. The scale is kept in check with regular applications of fish oil spray approved for organic farms, and the weevil is simply tolerated.

Overall, the grove looked fairly healthy, and most trees were loaded with fruit. Steve expected to pick another crop in early June. Then harvesting would be pretty much done for this year. If we have a cool and fairly dry winter coming up, hopefully we can expect a good crop of lychees next year.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »