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Mike the visiting farmer gets a visit from the Congressman. L to R: Mike, Margie Pikarsky, Joe Garcia, Mike Dill, Kevin Chambliss. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Mike the visiting farmer gets a visit from the Congressman. L to R: Mike, Margie Pikarsky, Joe Garcia, Mike Dill, Kevin Chambliss. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

It’s not every day that a politician stops by Bee Heaven Farm. But back in January, on a gray drizzly afternoon, Congressman Joe Garcia and some of his staff came to pay a visit with farmer Margie Pikarsky, one of his constituents.

“He’s making a real point of talking to farmers,” Margie told me. “Finding out what we do, what we need, what we want, and how to help.” She said he mentioned that he’s working on a series of visits with all the organic growers in Redland to get their input.

The visit made a favorable impression on farm intern Nicole Fiori. “I thought it was really refreshing to see that he got involved. It felt like he actually wanted to help us achieve our goals.”

Joe Garcia and Margie Pikarsky walking and talking at Bee Heaven Farm. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Joe Garcia and Margie Pikarsky walking and talking at Bee Heaven Farm. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

And so Margie took the Congressman on a tour of her farm. They strolled around and stopped to smell aromatic allspice leaves, taste delicate pei tsai greens, and spoke about various topics impacting agriculture — NAFTA, immigration labor, and two insect borne diseases — laurel wilt and citrus greening — which are threatening to destroy Florida’s avocado and citrus crops.

Read more about the Congressman’s visit here.

Farmer Margie Pikarsky and Congressman Joe Garcia, with a package of Rachel's Eggs. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

Farmer Margie Pikarsky and Congressman Joe Garcia, with a package of Rachel’s Eggs. Photo by Nicole Fiori.

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All covered up

Salvador and Mike unroll Reemay to cover a row of heirloom tomatoes.

Salvador and Mike unroll Reemay to cover a row of heirloom tomatoes.

On Wednesday afternoon, the folks at Bee Heaven Farm were preparing for a chilly night. Farmer Margie Pikarsky asked visiting farmer Mike Libsch and farm hand Salvador to put the floating row cover, or Reemay, over the rows of heirloom tomatoes and beans. They are tender plants and do not like it when it gets too cold.

Mike and Salvador unrolled the bundles of light weight cover, and draped each row of tomatoes. They tied down the middle in sections with string, so that the cover wouldn’t billow and blow away, and the ends were knotted and secured. Reemay covered bush beans like a blanket, and clumps of straw bales held the edges down. The men worked quickly as the late afternoon sun sank in the clear sky.

Salvador ties down the cover so it doesn't fly around.

Salvador ties down the cover so it doesn’t fly around.

“Reemay keeps the temps a couple degrees warmer,” Margie told me. “It makes a difference between frying the tomato plants from the cold, or continuing on.” The weather forecasts called for temperatures to drop to 39 degrees in Redland, and that put area farmers on alert. “You could get patchy frost,” Margie explained, saying that it could be just as dangerous as a freeze. “As soon as temps drop below 40, in the mid 30s, you’re in trouble.”

Reemay draped over tomato trellis before getting tied down. Bush beans got covered too.

Reemay draped over tomato trellis before getting tied down. Bush beans got covered too.

Better to cover up than to take a chance on getting plants destroyed by cold. Overnight, temperatures dropped as low as 36 in various areas in Redland. “This morning there was a lot of frost,” Margie said. The cover stayed on until frost was completely gone, around  8 or 9 in the morning. Tomato and bean plants looked alright, but Margie explained that cold damage doesn’t become evident until a couple days later. For now, the Reemay was rolled up and put away, until the next cold snap comes.

Note: Reemay is a spun polyester fabric that breathes, and will not burn plants it comes in contact with. Plastic, on the other hand, will do that, and should be used only if there is a frame or support keeping it off plants.

Heirloom tomato plants all covered up.

Heirloom tomato plants all covered up.

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Tropical Cornucopia Farm and Garden Show
Saturday Nov. 2 and Sunday Nov. 3, 2013
10 am to 5 pm
Free admission

Did you miss out on GrowFest! but still want to get your veggie starter plants? Bee Heaven Farm will be one of the vendors at the the new Tropical Cornucopia festival (which includes a Garden & Green Marketplace) held in Homestead’s historic downtown area.

Here’s another chance to pick up a selection of tomatoes, veggies and herb seedlings for your gardens. Plus, long-awaited strawberry plant starts (they didn’t arrive in time for GrowFest!) and fruit trees.

Farmer Margie Pikarsky will also have first-harvest Redland Raised organic green beans, awesomely sweet carambolas, her own SMOKED Rachel’s Eggs, assorted dried fruits of summer, both “Local Flavors” and “Field to Feast” cookbooks which feature local farmers and recipes, and a few other goodies.

In addition to the Green Marketplace, the Tropical Cornucopia will have a variety of stunning garden exhibits, orchids and other plants for sale, eclectic entertainment, kids’ activities, arts and crafts, and a historic exhibit.

The area itself is a hidden gem with a variety of interesting small shops to browse through, and plenty of nearby mom ‘n pop restaurants to pick from for a delicious lunch: Chefs on the Run, Casita Tejas, NicaMex, Royal Palm Grill, Redland Hotel’s Whistle Stop, and Mamma Mia’s. Save room for dessert at La Michoacana Paleteria, the best tropical fruit ice cream and paleta shop around, located right on Washington Avenue.

Easily-accessed via Metrobus, the busway stop is just steps away from the festival. If you choose to drive, follow the signs for event parking.

Event organized by Redland Tropical Gardens. For more information call 305-247-2016.

Location:
Homestead Historic Downtown District
on Washington Ave, 1 block east of Krome (SW 177th Ave.)
at Mowry Drive (SW 320th St.) to Miami-Dade Homestead Campus

Tropical Cornucopia

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Browsing for organic seedlings at the Bee Heaven Farm tent.

Browsing for organic seedlings at the Bee Heaven Farm tent.

(part 1 of 2)

Back for its second year this October, GrowFest! was the event for gardeners and locavores. Despite rain on Saturday afternoon and a slow start on Sunday morning, well over 1300 adults and kids came to the Fruit and Spice Park to browse for plants and nosh on good eats. Farmer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm, who organized the event (along with a group of fantastic volunteers), was delighted that the event is growing.

This year there was a mix of familiar and new vendors and exhibitors, a few less than last year, but each was worth checking out. Gardeners had plenty of plants to look at and buy, locavores found delicious things to taste, and there were plenty of interesting and knowledgeable people to talk to, with a wide variety of demos to attend.

GF-wagon

The best way to carry mass quantities of seedlings!

Bee Heaven Farm had its usual sea of organic seedlings. Along with dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, you could also choose from a selection of vegetables, herbs and greens that grow well in our climate and are regularly raised at the farm. In response to customer demand, there were several varieties of eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, Asian greens, and intriguing herbs like lemongrass, curryleaf, turmeric (new this year).

Farm intern Nicole Fiori helps a customer choose heirloom tomato seedlings.

Farm intern Nicole Fiori (right)helps a customer choose heirloom tomato seedlings.

A big thanks to farm employee Luz, intern Nicole, and volunteers Dhilini, Alhen and Holly who were on hand all weekend!

Selecting loofahs and goat's milk soap.

Selecting loofahs and goat’s milk soap.

New this year was the addition of Flair’s Fayre line of goat milk products. The husband and wife team of Pat Houle and Dan McGillicuddy, along with their assistant Christine, were on hand with offerings of raw goat milk and cheeses (for pet consumption only), and an assortment of deliciously aromatic soaps that were very popular. All products are made with milk from their small herd of goats.

Margie Pikarsky, Marty Mesh and Steven Green discuss matters at the FOG tent.

Margie Pikarsky, Marty Mesh and Steven Green discuss matters at the FOG tent.

At the Florida Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. (FOG) tent, folks were selling chilled Uncle Matt’s organic citrus juices and sharing information on organic certification. Marty Mesh, the executive director, returned this year along with several staffers who were thrilled to introduce their newest statewide program, Fresh Access Bucks (FAB).

Staffer Carmen Franz explained that FAB doubles value, up to $20, that SNAP recipients can use to buy Florida grown fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets. So far, FABs are accepted at Urban Oasis Project farmers markets and Bee Heaven Farm (in this area). This new program is funded by a grant from the state agriculture department, and Wholesome Wave, a non-profit which pioneered matching funds. Become a member to help FOG support “a sustainable and just food and farm system for all.”

Two Innovative Farmers of the Year! Margie Pikarsky (2013) and Gabriele Marewski (2012).

Two Innovative Farmers of the Year! Margie Pikarsky (2013) and Gabriele Marewski (2012).

Farmer Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms Organic brought two kinds of salads: cactus salad made with nopalitos, and her signature Baby Brassica Blend which includes a colorful sprinkling of edible flowers. The farm is known for its elegant, gourmet Dinner in Paradise and Brunch in Paradise series, season starting soon.

Alfredo Anez, Katie Sullivan and Gretchen Schmidt are the key people who produce Edible South Florida.

Alfredo Anez, Katie Sullivan and Gretchen Schmidt are the key people who produce Edible South Florida.

Edible South Florida magazine debuted their latest issue, which is all about local food. Many local growers and artisans are featured, and if you haunt farmers markets and locavore restaurants and cafes, they may be familiar to you too — Helen Cole’s jerky, Hani’s falafel, and Zak’s bread to name a few. I spotted a picture of farmer Margie on page 23. (Next to it is a brief essay I wrote about Farm Day.) You can pick up a copy for free at Whole Foods, Joanna’s Marketplace and other locations around town.

Giant African Land Snails (GALS) in carious stages of growth. A sample of their eggs is in the upper right corner.

Giant African Land Snails (GALS) in various stages of growth. A sample of their eggs is in the upper right corner.

And the villain of GrowFest! was back for an encore — the Giant African Land Snail (GALS). It’s an invasive species that devours over 500 kinds of plants and is capable of munching stucco off your house. Fully grown, the snail is as big as your hand, and has unique vertical jagged stripes on its shell. If you see a GALS in your yard, absolutely do NOT touch it! Call the state Division of Plant Industry at 888-397-1517 to come get it. These snails can harbor a microscopic nematode that can infect your brain and kill you. Over 131,000 GALS have been located and captured in South Florida in the past two years.

Grower Arturo Gonzalez, of Margarita's Fruits & Vegetables brought a forest of mango and avocado saplings.

Grower Arturo Gonzalez, of Margarita’s Fruit Trees, brought a forest of mango and avocado saplings.

GF-bananas

Bananas and plantains at Going Bananas

GF-bees

Beekeeping books and supplies from South Florida Bee Supplies.

Carnivorous plants from Envy Botanicals

Carnivorous plants from Envy Botanicals

Landscaping plants at Casey's Corner Nursery

Landscaping plants at Casey’s Corner Nursery.

Fresh potted herbs from Teena's Pride Farm

Fresh potted herbs from Teena’s Pride Farm.

Learn how to compost with worms, from the Fertile Earth Foundation.

Learn how to compost with worms, from the Fertile Earth Foundation.

Kamala Fletcher, Christiana Serlé, and Mike Moskos of the South Florida Food Policy Council

Kamala Fletcher, Christiana Serlé, and Mike Moskos of the South Florida Food Policy Council discuss the community’s food issues.

Ken Holden advocates incorporating Redland

Ken Holden advocates incorporating Redland.

Buy native plants from the Urban Paradise Guild

Buy native plants from the Urban Paradise Guild

(To be continued…)

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GrowFest! schedule

GrowFest-logo-2

Demos, Workshops and Presentations

Saturday, October 19

10:30 am    Plant propagation
10:30 am    Food Safety Modernization Act: It affects me??
11:30 am    Backyard beekeeping
11:30 am    Cottage Food Law: For home-based artisans

12 noon    Vermicomposting
1:00 pm    Florida Organic Growers: Programs of use to you
1:30 am    Backyard beekeeping
2:00 pm    Backyard vegetable growing
2:00 pm    Chef Adri: Quick, healthy, kid-friendly foods
3:00 pm    Raising backyard chickens    and the law
3:00 pm    Rain barrel workshop (pre-registration required)

All day    Master Gardener plant clinic
All day    Children’s activities / Ag in the Classroom
All day    Light bulb and shower head exchange (must bring old one)

Sunday, October 20

10:30 am    Plant propagation
10:30 am    Tropical fruit for South Florida
11:30 am    Backyard beekeeping
11:30 am    Growing mangoes

12 noon    Vermicomposting
1:00 pm    Urban Oasis Project and the Verde Gardens vision
1:30 am    Backyard beekeeping
2:00 pm    Backyard vegetable growing
3:00 pm    Fermentation: food culture!
3:00 pm    DIY: Build an open-air food composter

All day    Master Gardener plant clinic
All day    Children’s activities / Ag in the Classroom
All day    Light bulb and shower head exchange (must bring old one)

Schedule is subject to change

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Start your gardens!

GrowFest-logo-2

Saturday October 19 and Sunday October 20, 2013 
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

GrowFest! 2013 is right around the corner, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to get your seedlings, companion plants and fruit trees for your fall garden. Farmer Margie Pikarsky and her staff have been hard at work growing heirloom tomato starts and other baby plants for the event.

Bee Heaven Farm will offer over 80 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings, several varieties of eggplant, hot peppers, basil, arugula, chard, kale, Asian greens and perennial herbs like garlic chives, curryleaf, and lemongrass. Other vendors will have 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 Urban Oasis Project/Wholesome Wave Foundation’s double-value program, to get those gardens growing!

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)

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 their presentations and demos. There will be special emphasis on organic and environmentally friendly practices, and establishing building blocks for healthy eating.

Want to learn how to prepare healthy food and kid-friendly snacks? See local chefs use fresh local ingredients to create fun and tasty dishes, school lunches, and snacks. Pick up copies of three awesome books all about local foods — Local Flavor: Recipes Raised in the Florida Redland — Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs and Artisans — Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida.

Melissa Contreras, author of Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening.

Melissa Contreras, author of Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening.

Enjoy fresh, great food!  Tired of that same old fair food? We’ll have a great selection of healthy foods showcasing locally-grown Fresh From Florida and Redland Raised ingredients. Local cottage food and artisanal producers will share their stories and sell their goods.

Explore the park!  The only tropical botanical garden and public park of its kind in the U.S., the Redland Fruit & 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.

For sponsorship opportunities, contact Margie at GrowFest@beeheavenfarm.com

Want to be a vendor or exhibitor?
Click here for GrowFest! 2013 vendor application.

Location:
Redland Fruit & Spice Park 
24801 SW 187th Avenue, Redland, FL 
(corner of Coconut Palm Drive & Redland Road)

Admission:
$8 advance purchase 
$10 at the gate 
children under 12 free
Includes raffle tickets for a chance at some great door prizes!

The heart of the matter was found at the Bee Heaven Farm tents.

The heart of the matter was found at the Bee Heaven Farm tents. (GrowFest! 2012)

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Onionville was so amazing that I had to document it with my video camera. Here, farmer Arturo Gonzalez takes me on a brief tour of a sea of red and yellow onions drying in the barn at Bee Heaven Farm. If you are a CSA member, you ate his lovely red spring onions not too long ago. There’s plenty more where that came from, if you like such things. Keep your eyes open for onions in the summer offerings.

This is the very first farm video I’m posting on the blog and on YouTube. If you want to see more videos, let me know and I’ll post some more, now and then, when I get a chance.

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