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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

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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.

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GrowFest! vendors

Vendors and exhibitors participating at GrowFest! this year.

Casey’s Corner Nursery – Native foliage for sun or shade, short or tall.
http://www.plantrealflorida.org/professionals/detail/16

Community Arts Cool Ties – Under the sun, we’re all one.
http://www.communityartcoolties.com/

Dade County Farm Bureau – The voice of Dade County agriculture.
http://www.dade-agriculture.org/

Edible South Florida – Exploring our foods, our stories, our community by season.
http://ediblesouthflorida.com/

Envy Botanicals – Carnivorous plants. https://twitter.com/envybotanicals

Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Plant Industry – Works to detect, intercept and control plant and honey bee pests that threaten Florida’s native and commercially grown plants and agricultural resources.
http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Plant-Industry

Florida Organic Growers – Supports and promotes sustainable organic agriculture and provides solutions to the issues facing farmers, families, and everyone in between. http://www.foginfo.org/

Gaby’s Farm – Gourmet tropical fruit ice cream and sorbet.
http://gabysfarm.com/

Going Bananas – Family owned and operated nursery/grove is exclusively devoted to growing many varieties of banana plants and tropical lychee trees.
http://www.going-bananas.com/

Hani’s Mediterranean Organics – Goat milk, goat cheese, goat milk ice cream, Mediterranean cuisine http://www.localharvest.org/hanis-mediterranean-organics-M29177

Homestead Hospital 
http://baptisthealth.net/en/facilities/homestead-hospital/pages/default.aspx

JackPot – Fabric growing containers.
http://www.betterroots.com/

Mango House – Miami’s Mango Mama, Jen Karetnick, displays all things mango: cook book, art, clothing, artifacts.
http://upf.com/book.asp?id=KARET001

Margarita’s Fruit Trees – Tropical fruit trees

The Miami G.R.O.W. Project – Growing, teaching, feeding our community.
http://www.miamigrowproject.org/

Micro Hill Farms – Organically grown microgreens, sunflower shoots, pea tendrils and wheatgrass. http://www.localharvest.org/micro-hill-farms-M62483

Miguel Bode Honey – Local raw honey, pollen, beeswax

Native Conch – Delicious conch fritters

Paradise Farms Organic  – Home of Dinner in Paradise
http://paradisefarms.net/

Redland Organic Herb Farm – Specializing in organic potted herb and vegetable plants.  http://www.redlandorganicherbfarm.com/

Rochelois Jams – Exotic fruit  jams, jellies and chutneys made from local tropical fruits.
http://www.rocheloisjams.com/

Slow Food Miami  – Supporting good, clean and fair food.
http://www.slowfoodmiami.org/home.htm

Teena’s Pride CSA – Ultra fresh vegetables grown on a multi-generation family farm.
http://www.teenaspridecsa.com/

Tropical Fruit & Vegetable Society (Fruit & Spice Park fruit display) – Selling vanilla ice cream with toppings made from park fruits.
http://www.fruitandspicepark.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=16&Itemid=84

UF/IFAS Extension Office  – Solutions for your life.
http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/index.shtml

The Urban Farmer – Hydroponic farming, organic and naturally grown.
http://theurbanfarmerflorida.com/

Urban Oasis Project – Making fresh, healthy, local food accessible to ALL!
http://www.urbanoasisproject.org/

USDA-NRCS Natural Resources Conservation Service – Agriculture conservation, Farm Bill 2014
http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/

Verde Community Farm and Market – A 22 acre organic farm and market, teaching formerly homeless families how to run a farm.
http://www.verdefarmandmarket.com/

Whole Foods Market 
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

 

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GrowFest-logo-2

 

Demos, Workshops & Presentations


Saturday, October 18

11:00 am          Mistakes I’ve Made Along the Way Growing Herbs
11:00 am          Mango Poetry
11:30 am          Hungry for Justice documentary screening
1:00 pm            Properly Pruning Fruit Trees
1:00 pm            Mango Poetry
1:30 pm            Managing Vegetable Crops:
From Commercial Industry to Backyard Gardens
2:30 pm            Rain Barrel Workshop (Barrel cost: $40)
2:30 pm            Wild Edible Plants of Florida

 

Sunday, October 19

10:30 am          Plant Propagation
10:30 am          The Slow Food Ark of Taste
11:00 am          Mango Poetry
11:30 am          Hungry for Justice documentary screening
1:00 pm            Mistakes I’ve Made Along the Way Growing Herbs
1:00 pm            Mango Poetry
1:30 pm            Good Bugs/Bad Bugs in Your Edible Landscape
2:30 pm            Vegetable Oddities
2:30 pm            Rain Barrel Workshop (Barrel cost: $40)

 

Saturday and Sunday All Day activities:

Kids’ Activities / Ag in the Classroom
Master Gardener Plant Clinic
Community Art  *SUNDAY ONLY*
Light Bulb & Shower Head Exchange (Must bring old ones)

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It’s gonna fit!

There’s a new greenhouse going up at Bee Heaven Farm! Before one post can be set, the space for the structure has to be measured and staked out. In this video we meet Frankie the greenhouse guy and his helper, who are the masters of the tape measure. The space they stake out looks like a tight fit. Margie is delighted and excited — her dream is finally materializing!

Help Margie’s dream come to fruition and donate to her Indiegogo campaign. Click here to do it online. It’s fast and easy! (Plus you get cool gifts.) Today, Sunday October 12th, is The Last Day! Thanks for your donation!

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GrowFest-logo-2

 

A celebration of all local things edible, green, and growing

Hosted by Bee Heaven Farm / Redland Organics

Heirloom Tomato & Vegetable Seedlings
Fruit Trees * Growing Information
Local Food * Live Music
Park Tours * Giveaways * Kids’ Activities
Demos & Presentations

Browsing through a sea of seedlings in the heirloom tomato section. (GrowFest! 2012)

Browsing through a sea of seedlings in the heirloom tomato section. (GrowFest! 2012)

Saturday October 18 and Sunday October 19, 2014
10:00 pm- 5:00 pm
Fruit & Spice Park
24801 SW 187 Ave, Redland FL 33031

$10 cash at gate * Kids under 12 free
Free tickets for military at Vet Tix 

 

Heirloom tomato seedlings. (GrowFest! 2012)

Heirloom tomato seedlings. (GrowFest! 2012)

GrowFest! is about connecting the dots between the farm or garden and the dinner table. It’s about providing the knowledge and materials to grow, forage, buy, prepare, and eat good, local, seasonal food. Engaging the public, encouraging and giving them the tools to grow some of their own will enable them to gain a better appreciation of what it takes for farmers to produce the food we all eat, and whet folks’ appetite for the best, healthiest, and freshest produce.

Start your gardens! Get your seedlings, fruit trees and companion plants. Bee Heaven Farm will have over 100 varieties of heirloom tomato, veggie and hard-to-find herb seedlings. There will be fruit trees, native, and companion plants to promote beneficial insect habitat and gardening supplies. SNAP/EBT dollars can be used for buying veggie seeds and seedlings. And those dollars will stretch twice as far, courtesy of Florida Organic Growers’ Fresh Access Bucks double-value program, to get those gardens growing!

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office.

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office. (GrowFest! 2013)

Questions about growing? Answers here for backyard growers, urban farmers, small and big farms. The UF/Miami- Dade County Extension Office is our local source for growing information tailored to our subtropical South Florida climate. Check out our presentations, workshops, and demos. There will be special emphasis on organic and environmentally friendly practices, and establishing building blocks for healthy eating.

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him. (GrowFest! 2013)

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him. (GrowFest! 2013)

Want to learn how to prepare healthy food? See local chefs use fresh local ingredients to create fun and tasty dishes, school lunches, and snacks. Pick up copies of awesome books highlighting local foods, like Local Flavor: Recipes Raised in the Florida Redland. Grab a hot-off-the-press copy of Edible South Florida Magazine’s Fall issue, chock full of information.

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams.

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams.

Enjoy fresh, great locally-grown food! Tired of that same old fair food? Our food vendors showcase locally-grown Fresh From Florida and Redland Raised ingredients. Local cottage food and artisanal producers will share their stories and sell their goods.

Watch screenings of “Hungry for Justice” a documentary about social justice issues for agricultural workers presented by Florida Organic Growers.

Explore the park! The only tropical botanical garden and public park of its kind in the U.S., the Redland Fruit and Spice Park hosts over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts and edible plants. If you’ve ever been to the park, you know what a nice place it is to visit and learn about the amazing variety of edible plants you can grow in South Florida.

Enjoy Music Bluegrass tunes by The Redland Pickers and chill vibes by Satori Kings each day at 11:30 am and 3:30 pm.

Daily Prize drawings each day at 1:15 pm and 4:30 pm. Paid and VIP admission includes a raffle ticket for a chance at some great door prizes!

 

(L to R): Margie Pikarsky, Nick Pikarsky and Louise King of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association (GrowFest! 2012)

(L to R): Margie Pikarsky, Nick Pikarsky, and Louise King of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association (GrowFest! 2012)

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Bee Heaven Farm is growing!

After 10 years, Farmer Margie Pikarsky has outgrown the little shade house where she and her crew plant seeds and start growing seedlings. The little shade house doesn’t have much room to work for three people. It’s made of wood and plastic sheeting, is overgrown and falling apart. Many more seedlings are growing outside on stands made from wooden pallets, under the dappled shade of a royal poinciana tree. The pallets are falling apart too, in the tropical rain and heat. There’s a limited amount of space to meet the increasing demand for organic seedlings.

Margie wants — and needs — a new professional greenhouse. The one she has her eye on is 90 feet long and 60 feet wide. On one side, seedlings and starts will grow on metal stands (that won’t rot), and tender plants will grow directly in the ground on the other side. But something like that doesn’t come cheap. So Farmer Margie is turning to you — her faithful customers and CSA members — for financial assistance.

All the details on the project are posted on Bee Heaven Farm’s fundraising page. New video updates will be posted both there and on this blog. Help the farm grow! Give what you can!

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