The weather was fabulous most of November/December on the farm, in the 70s and low 80s, creating lots of last minute growth for the year. Our trees were loaded with mulberries, loquats and papayas.
This papaya cultivar is our favorite. This died to the ground last year and came back with four prolific stems. We collected a lot of ripe fruit from these trees and froze them, which gives us enough fruit for the next few months. We’ve gotten into the rhythm of this and embrace not having papayas year around – we have plenty of other fruit in the late spring/early summer while they’re growing back. They’re super easy to harvest at this height!
Then the polar vortex came to visit us. We had three nights of bitter (for Florida) cold resulting in hard freezes, meaning the temperature was well below 32F for hours each nightA honeybee grabs the last bit of nectar from our tithonia before the freeze
We’ve been dealing with freezes yearly in USDA zone 9A, and experimenting with different ways of handling them. We have another freeze headed toward us and will likely have more, so it’s a good time to share what we do.
Our young avocados are our biggest concern in freezes. Last year, they were in full flower in January and we wanted the fruit, so we protected them with blankets thrown over the top of them and a low sprinkler system running all night beneath them. The water froze where it landed, but there is heat generated by the freezing of water – it takes more energy to freeze water than air, and that’s also why you water your plants before a freeze. The 60F water coming from the well kept the temperature of the area around 32F even though we hit 25F for several hours, which the flowers and tree could take.
This photo was taken after 10 AM the next day which shows how cold it was.
This year, the trees were bigger and harder to cover, so we covered two of them, but left one uncovered with just the sprinkler. All three of them did well!
Lesson: the trees are big enough at this point to not need the blankets, but the water still helps prevent freeze burn of tender flowers/buds especially.
This was what our tree looked like after the coldest night. These icicles are so beautiful!
We had other plants to protect too. We did this in two ways:
1. We gathered Spanish moss, pine needs, leaves, grass, whatever organic material was available and placed a mound by each frost sensitive plant. On the day of freezing, we covered the plants with this insulation.
2. For some plants, we also threw a blanket on top of the insulation.
What we found:
The plants with both insulation and blankets got significantly less freeze burn than the ones with just a blanket or just insulation. No surprise but it’s always good to test your hypothesis.
The organic insulation we gathered doubles as “chop and drop” fertilizer in the spring. We are always thinking about how to do less work by stacking functions. We accomplished several things by gathering the organic material:
1. Neatened up areas of the farm
2. Moved fertility from pathways where we don’t want a bunch of stuff to grow, to places where we want things to grow abundantly
3. Protected plants from frost
4. Prepared to feed the plants in the spring
5. The chop and drop will also suppress weeds around the plant when they start popping up in the spring
Before the freeze we harvested everything we could, and it was a lot! We have loads of delicious papaya in our freezer, both green and ripe along with mulberries, loquats and some beauty-berry syrup we haven’t made into jelly yet.
Our young Christmas loquat had its first bumper crop this year of delicious fruit with just the right mix of sweet and tart. We love Christmas loquat! Looking forward to tasting our Champagne variety too, in the spring.
We still have cassava and yams we haven’t harvested yet and while our perennial greens mostly died back, we have some delicious annual lettuce, mustard, and brassicas (kale, collard, etc) growing in our kitchen garden.
Purple yam or “ube” harvest. We call this one “Bigfoot.” We ate it, it was delicious.
It’s our planting season! We’re still planting winter crops like broccoli but also starting spring/summer flowers and veggies.
We took a bunch of cuttings from flowers and perennial greens to get a jump start on things in the spring that we’re keeping in the greenhouse. We dug up some seminole pumpkin plants and saved them before the freeze, an experiment to see if we can get it going early in the season. We’ve been working on making the operation more efficient, so this didn’t take much time, nor does it take much time to water/care for them.
We’ll share what we’re growing in our winter garden in our next newsletter!
We keep a couple of surinam cherries in pots and move them into the greenhouse during freezes. There’s fruit showing up on this one so it did get pollinated before the freeze.