Down on the farm: We very much appreciate your enthusiasm for our vegetables-several subscribers were even disappointed last week because they found that they were on the B week, so they had to wait another week. We're expecting to have about the same things this week, so you didn't miss anything. My plan is always to have the same things 2 weeks in a row, but, it certainly doesn't always work out that way.
One of the important dates for us each fall is when we plant lettuce. Most lettuce varieties will not even germinate if the temperature is too high-with most varieties, that temperature is around 70 degrees. Now we usually put our early lettuces in the walk-in cooler for a few days to germinate at 55 degrees, so germination temperature is not as critical. Bolting and bitter flavors can be problems, however, when we bring have to grow it in these 85-90 degree days.
But fresh lettuce is so popular that I tend to gamble a little-move it up earlier than it should be. Last week I decided that this Monday will be the date this year. So, there could be leaf lettuces in your boxes by the second week in November. If you visit Green Markets or read about local food, you may notice that our farming friends the Swanks in Loxahatchee and Diane and Carl at Kai-kai in Martin County already have, or will soon have, some lettuces. That's because it's cooler in those areas. Swanks also grow hydroponically and under shade cloth so they are able to keep the growing environment a little cooler for their greens.
Last week I mentioned the virus problems we have in our crops. This is going to be a long explanation-and rather boring for some of you. So, I understand if you want to skip it. However, I know others want to know what's going on and why I do what I do in managing these crops. So, I'll do this one time and you can ask me questions about it during the season when they occur to you.
Just as mosquitos, ticks, and some other insects can spread viruses among people and/or animals, insects which feed on plants can also vector viruses from plant to plant. The main vectors that are a problem for vegetable crops here are whiteflies, thrips, and aphids.
Generally, if we have left our fields fallow for about 6 weeks during the summer, we are able to start the growing season with low levels of these pathogens and the insects which spread them. However, this season it seemed like they were waiting in the bushes for our early plantings. The summer squashes and spaghetti squashes were the first crops to show symptoms. Then we had to throw out 60% of our second group of cherry tomato seedlings because they were affected.( Actually we didn't throw them out-they went to the USDA and a private lab so they can help all of us to identify the viruses in the tomatoes and the particular species of thrips which are carrying them.)
There are two different groups of viruses that are the biggest problem for us. One kind is those which affect cucurbits (vine crops). The others affect our solanaceous crops: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos. Right now there are about 5 viruses in each of these groups. I say "right now" because 2 years ago, there were only 2-3 of each. Not good, huh?
Now, there is a lot of interesting scientific information to study here-and those of us who are interested in this kind of thing like to learn about it. But, from a practical standpoint, what is most important to you and me and other growers and consumers is how we can control these so we can continue to grow produce here.
The two basic methods of preventing them are to control the insect vectors and to keep the plants from getting the diseases. This week I'll tackle that first method.
These viruses have evolved to use certain insects for their transportation because these insects had characteristics that made it easy for the viruses to use them. They are sucking insects, rather than chewing insects, which enables them to inject the virus directly into the plant. They are mobile-they fly at least during some stage of their life cycles. Thrips, the worst one we are fighting right now, spend a lot of their life cycles inside the terminal buds (the "growing point") and/or flowers of the plants.
We use a system that is called Integrated Pest Management. That means we try to use all the "tools" we have-not just insecticides. Here is the big problem, though: Many insect control methods, especially organic ones such as beneficial insects, will lower insect populations. That's fine if you are concerned about preventing the buildup of a high population of insects which will damage your plants. However, when we are talking about vectoring diseases, we must realize that it only takes 1 (ONE!) insect carrying that virus to feed on that plant and that plant is infected. Most plants will not produce any more after that point. Here is what we are doing now:
1. Reflective plastic mulch (looks like aluminum foil). It reflects the light so that the flying insects "think" that is the sun. They naturally fly away from the sun, which means they fly away from our little transplants that are planted into this mulch. It does get dull after a few weeks, but by then the plants have grown up away from it and covered a lot of it. It also costs about 1 1/2 times as much as our other plastic mulches, but it really helps to prevent virus infection early in the crop.
2. Surround, a powdered kaolin clay. This coats the plant and fruit in a white dust which repels insects and/or interferes with their life cycle. So, your tomatoes, peppers, and other fruit may have this white coating at times. Just wipe or wash it off. This product is approved for use by organic growers so it will not hurt you.
3. Insecticides: Yep-I'm sorry, but that is the only way we can reliably control these insects and produce crops in this environment. And yes, some of these insecticides are systemic-which means they move through the plants so that the insects are killed when they feed on the plants. These are legal insecticides which are approved for the crops on which we use them. Frankly, they are a lot safer to people, animals, and most of the environment than the old insecticides which pretty much killed everything in the field-sometimes for weeks. Of course, some insecticides have the potential to kill bees (after all, bees are insects). We have used the neonictinoids, which are the types being criticized in the media stories about bee deaths, for years. We use them only at the recommended times of the crop cycle. The beekeepers who keep bees here have told me that they have never seen problems with their hives. (In fact, Dennis has told us recently that the main thing killing his bees here is cane toads. They hide under the hives and when the bees come out in the morning, the toads have a buffet.) So, at least with the crops we grow, it is possible to use these insecticides and keep the bees alive, too.
Next exciting installment: how we can prevent the crop plants from getting the viruses.
Erickson Farm has told us that frequent rains have shortened the avocado season this year. Their fruit is literally falling off the trees. So, they picked what they needed to and we hope to have them for another 2-3 weeks.
What's in your box: watermelon summer squash (Perez Farm in Loxahatchee) an avocado (Erickson Farm) corn baby arugula eggplant cucumbers (may be in all boxes this week)-some of these are the smaller pickling type, but they work well in a salad, too baby kale (large boxes only)
Weekly extras: What are "extras"? This means that we either have an extra large supply of some of the items we grow, or we purchased or grew some items just for extras (for instance, flowers, honey or okra). The best way to order extras is to email Donna at email@example.com.
For most extras, please order by 2 PM the day before your box. If you are ordering later than that, please call 561-638-2755 and leave the message on the machine. (Those ordering for Monday boxes need to call and leave a message, since you don't receive this list in time to order by email.) Flowers and sprouts require earlier orders since we have to order them from other farms. For more information, please check the "Weekly Extras" section on the subscriber pages of our website.
Some people order particular extras as a "standing order". For instance, you may choose to get cut flowers, sprouts, or even extra tomatoes or lettuce each time you get a box-whether it is weekly or biweekly. Contact Donna if you want to set up a standing order of anything.
Locally grown Flowers (for Monday and Tuesday boxes, order by noon on the Friday before your box; for Thursday and Friday, order by noon on Wednesday). For information about these flower growers and some pictures of their flowers, check the Subscriber Business Links on our Subscriber section
Seed to Bloom, Loxahatchee: colorful mixed bouquets-whatever is in season $10.00 each
Summer squashes from Perez Farm in Loxahatchee $1.50/lb.-yellow, zucchini, or mixed (not available Monday and Tuesday this week)
Avocados from Erickson Farm in Canal Point $1.50 each
NEW! Cornstalks -for fall decorations. (October only) Most are about 5' tall. Let us know when you want to pick them up and we'll have them ready for you. Sorry, no delivery. $7/dozen
Namwah bananas (short and plump) from Yagnapurush Farm in Loxahatchee 1 lb. $1.50 3 lbs. $4
McCoy's Honey-raw, unfiltered, locally produced Good supply now!http://www.mccoysfloridahoney.com/ 1 lb. glass jar $5.00 each (wildflower, palmetto, or orange blossom) 3 lb. plastic jug $14.00 each (wildflower, palmetto, or orange blossom) 1 lb. glass jar Orange blossom honey with comb included $6.50
LeDuc "Flavor Pict" Honey This honey was produced by the bees which pollinated our on this farm this spring. 1 qt. jars $17
Herbs (some are from our farm, some from Pontano Farms) $3/bunch basil lemon basil Thai basil opal (purple) basil mint specialty mints (chocolate, apple, pineapple, peppermint) oregano sage tarragon
Veggies from our farm Baby arugula $2.50/8 oz. Baby kale $2.50/8 oz. Eggplant $2.00/lb. Okra $3.00/lb. Microgreens $2.50 sandwich bag (mix may contain radishes, arugula, kale, and/or kohlrabi) Sprouts from Universal Living Sprouts in Royal Palm Beach (www.ulsprouts.com): Again we are carrying these beautiful sprouts from Universal Living Sprouts in West Palm. They are too perishable and expensive for us to keep them in stock, so please be sure to pre-order them if you would like to try them. You will need to order them about a week before the day of your box-or you can place a "standing order".
The first 4 are more like microgreens-they are growing in flats and then cut off. The beans are more like sprouts-with the tiny roots.
Sprouted greens 8 oz. $7.00 Wheat grass Pea greens Sunflower Buckwheat Sprouted beans 4 oz. $3.00 Adzuki Fenugreek Garbanzo Lentil Mung Pea beans-sprouted peas Mixed (Adzuki, Lentil, Mung)