Posts Tagged ‘Cliff Middleton’

Happy Thankgiving to all my readers out there! When you sit down to your holiday feast, don’t forget to give thanks for all the farmers who worked hard to bring you those fresh, local organic green beans, maybe the heritage turkey, and the other delicious things on your table.

Thanks to Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm, and her family and helpers for providing me with some of the freshest and healthiest food I’ve eaten, and for extending their friendship, kindness and generosity. Thanks also (in no particular order) to Chris and Eva Worden, Robert Barnum, Dan Howard, Hani and Mary Lee Khouri, Cliff Middleton, Gabrielle Marewski, Steven Green, Muriel Olivares, Miguel Bode and Mario Yanez.

This blog wouldn’t exist without their cooperation. Their farms wouldn’t exist without your support. Eat local!

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Have you thawed out yet? We had two weeks of record-breaking cold temperatures this month. It seemed each night a new low was recorded, and the cold went on for the longest stretch anyone could remember. “I’ve been down here for 40 years and I’ve never seen a cold snap like this,” marveled Cliff Middleton of Three Sisters Farm. And this long cold spell did break yet another record. Beginning January 2nd, we had 12 days in a row of temps dropping below 50 degrees, and came one day short of breaking the record of 13 days straight, set in Miami in Jan/Feb 1940, according to the National Weather Service.

The weekend of Saturday January 9th brought historic lows that were well below freezing. And by the wee hours of Monday January 11, hopes of any chance of crops escaping harm died as the temperature dropped into the high to mid 20s and stayed there for several hours. That was long enough to destroy cold-sensitive plants.

Green bean field, Homestead Organics. Taken on Friday Jan. 8, before the last freeze.

Same green bean field, Homestead Organics. Taken on Friday Jan. 15, after the freeze.

The growers of Redland Organics got hit hard by the freeze this past week. Dan Howard of Homestead Organics had five fields planted with green beans. He watered the crops for days to protect them from the cold. But early Monday Jan. 11th, the temperature fell as low as 28 degrees on his front porch, with the coldest temps around 4 – 5 a.m., and it stayed below freezing until dawn.There was no fighting it. All 22 acres of green beans were damaged.

“Farmers gamble with the weather and are risk takers,” Dan said. Sometimes they gamble and lose. Because of the freeze, Dan says he lost $100K in sales. He has crop insurance, but since beans are not a specialty crop, insurance will only pay for seed and fertilizer and not much more. He’s all ready to replant, though. “Don’t have much of a choice otherwise,” he laughed. The Friday before the last freeze, he cultivated one field, preparing the soil for planting. And just the other day he loaded his truck with bean seeds and was ready to start over again.

Cliff Middleton lost all of his above ground crops, but not as many root crops. He fought the cold by “basically saturating the land with water,” he explained. “But that many hours of cold will kill plants. Callaloo has a very low tolerance for cold and is all burned. The results of the damage will last for a year. All the fruit trees will react to this.”

Robert Barnum of Possum Trot got patchy frost in his grove, and is concerned about long-term damage to his sensitive tropical trees. He grows 300 types, and caimito, anona and guanabana are the most cold sensitive. “The cold will kill cambium, the growing layer between the bark and the wood,” Robert explained. Branches or a trunk less than four inches in diameter will die more easily, depending on how cold the temperature falls and for how long. “A tree looks OK for a while, and then the damage shows up later. Some damage takes months to show up. Lots of things can show up. Buds might not form, or form small, or not set fruit and drop off,” he said. Sounds like there might not be as much fruit this summer, but time will tell.

Heirloom pole beans damaged by the cold. Bee Heaven Farm, Jan. 15.

It was simply too cold for too long, and pole beans and heirloom tomatoes at Bee Heaven Farm didn’t make it. Margie Pikarsky and her crew covered them up with Reemay (floating row cover) for two weeks. The plants made it though the first freeze right after New Year’s, and at first it seemed like they would survive the cold. But Reemay wasn’t effective on that fateful Monday morning. Pole beans, including the dappled Dragons Tongue beans blogged about on Mango & Lime are pretty much all dead. Leaves are burned and withered, and it’s uncertain if the plants will have enough energy to grow new leaves and blooms. The heirloom tomatoes are also pretty much destroyed. Don’t expect too many heirloom tomatoes this season at the farmers market. Read more about the freeze at the Bee Heaven Farm blog. Not all was lost, though. I saw carrots, radishes, kohlrabi and dill looking no worse for the wear.

Heirloom tomato plant completely destroyed by the cold. Bee Heaven Farm, Jan. 15.

Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms covered her raised vegetable beds with Reemay and her vegetables survived, along with the microgreens. But the edible flowers that she is known for did not. “They were vining too much and it was almost impossible to cover them all,” she explained. “The flowers are a total loss.” Crop insurance doesn’t cover edible flowers or microgreens, and considers them “experimental,” and the quantities she grows are too small to get coverage. Oyster mushrooms slowed down because of the lower humidity, but Gabriele expects a big flush of growth as it warms up, and plenty of mushrooms in time for market this Saturday.

[Note: Heard that Worden Farm had major losses and is replanting fast and furious. They had much colder temps for much longer up in Punta Gorda. Hope to get an interview with them soon.]

So, for the next month or two, pickings might be slim when it comes to local produce. You just may not find some things (like beans) that you got earlier in the season, at least not for a while; and other things (like heirloom tomatoes) may not be available at all or in very limited quantities. Despite that, do make it a point to support your local growers when you shop at farmers markets and grocery stores. They need your help to bounce back from their losses.

Healthy green bean plant, before the freeze.

Damaged green bean plant, after the freeze.

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