Friday, January 15, 2010

Florida Freeze Damage

While this freeze was no where as severe as the snow of '77, the Christmas Eve freeze of '83, or the freeze of '89, it is causing a LOT of hardship for commercial growers of citrus, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries and more. Urban farmers have been impacted too, though our cold hardy winter leafy crops, especially members of the Brassica Family (collards, turnips, mustard, broccoli, etc.) should have come through barely affected....mine frozen solid and are just fine.

The above ground portions of my own tropical food crops got zapped pretty hard though, especially my papayas, bananas and cassavas. Papayas rarely come back from a freeze, but since they are an herbaceous plant vs. a tree, they are VERY fast from seeds and I already had a tray of seedlings I will soon put into 4 inch pots to grow until it is safe to plant them in March or late summer they should be bearing fruit. I will leave the bananas alone until March as the browned fronds can act as insulation in case we get another freeze......IF the trunks WERE frozen, I will cut them down in March with a handsaw, and pile the chunks around the base of the stump to act as a mulch, then mulch the whole area with oak leaves and horse stall sweepings, then give them lots of the kitchen graywater I trap in a 4 gallon bucket beneath my sink (I disconnected the outflow pipe ages ago). Since cassavas regrow VERY rapidly in summer, and the part I eat is underground I will begin cuttings them back and chop the waste into the free range chicken scratch path that acts as a giant compost factory for me. Same goes for the true yams (Dioscorea species) I grow all over the yard....I have HUNDREDS of pounds of their nutrittious tubers that taste like an Idaho potato safely underground, and they never get woody, even when years old, so I will cut back the vast amounts of their dead vines consuming my fences and tall rebar in the backyard and let the chickens shred them for me. The only way the freeze impacted my food supply is loss of papayas and hot peppers.

Out front, where I grow mostly ornamentals, I will do little pruning until March as the dead tissue acts as insulation for future cold snaps. However, since I am reclaiming my front yard rendered an impenetrable jungle due to my deadly thorny GIANT climbing rose 'Mermaid' (which I am girdling to kill it since constant pruning did little to contain it) I WILL be cutting back and digging up perennials that simply got WAY too big during the year that 'Mermaid' kept me out of my own front yard.. I will also be cutting to the ground my overly large 'Bolivian Sunflower' (Tithonia diversifolia) and putting that vast amount of chopped up phosphorus-rich stalks into the chicken path too, which I should have done last March.

For me there are positives to this freeze...zapped mosquitos and garden pests and weeds, forced pruning of overgrown perennials, and especially, a good chilling period of needed dormancy for my cherished "Denver Roses" that are thriving in 18 gallon 'Water Wise Container Gardens' even though experts say that Hybrid Perpetuals and Bourbons "can't grow in Florida"....I am expecting a grand display this March, April and May.

There is a decent chance of rain this weekend which could do a lot for folks' damaged and stressed plants following this very severe freeze. I hope this post helps Florida urban farmers decide how to address damage to their crops. John

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