The Atlantic hurricane season stretches from June to November, and the vegetable growing season in South Florida begins in August. This means that pre-plant, planting, and early harvesting operations are performed during hurricane season. Three major hurricanes striking our area during two consecutive growing seasons have helped to teach us how to give vegetable crops the best chance of survival. On a 4-ha farm growing diversified vegetable crops, there have been clear differences in crop survival. Tiny seedlings of most crops were generally killed by driving rains and strong winds. However, 7- to 10-cm-tall transplants in plastic cell trays survived surprisingly well when placed on the ground in an area that did not flood and was protected from flying debris. During the hurricane with the highest winds, large plants, such as tomatoes and squash, were defoliated. Even plants that survived defoliation and regrew were injured, so they were vulnerable to diseases later in the season. It actually appears to be best not to stake crops in extremely high winds. Staked and tied tomatoes often broke off at the top string. In winds of over 90 knots, unstaked eggplants fared best of any mature crops. They fell over immediately and, lying on the ground, were protected from the high winds. After the storm passed, they were pulled upright, staked and tied, and produced excellent yields. Sweet corn also fell over, but, over a period of a week, gradually returned to about a 45° angle where it produced about 30% of the normal yield. Of course, each hurricane has different characteristics; what works in one may not be the best during others. We are, however, hoping not to have a chance to learn more about how crops survive hurricanes.
Nancy E. Roe and Darrin M. Parmenter
Darrin Parmenter, Russell Nagata, Kent Cushman, and Nancy Roe
Recently, an increasing number of restaurants in Palm Beach County, Florida, have been requesting squash (Cucurbita pepo) flowers from local vegetable growers. Typically, current field-grown squash cultivars produce a higher ratio of female to male flowers, with the emphasis on fruit production. However, a market for squash blossoms indicates a need for cultivars that produce higher numbers of consistently developing male flowers throughout the growing season. In order to evaluate male squash blossom production, 10 squash cultivars, including yellow-summer, zucchini, round, and scallop-types, and one compact-type pumpkin, were field-grown during the 2005–06 growing season. The average number of male flowers per plant by week was recorded for 7 weeks, starting when the first male flowers were identified within the entire trial. In addition to blossom counts, flower traits, such as bell height, depth, volume, and weight were also recorded. Preliminary results from the 2005 season indicate that the commercial yellow-summer squash cultivars, Mulitpik and Early Prolific Straightneck, and the zucchini cultivars, Jaguar and Raven, produced fewer male flowers on a week-by-week and total basis. The cultivar, White Bush Scallop, produced significantly more male flowers then any other entry, with an average of 9.8 male flowers per plant per week. Little or no difference was seen in bell height and depth among the 11 cultivars; however, two cultivars, Costa Romanesque and Hybrid Pam (compact pumpkin type) had significantly greater bell volumes and weights, indicating a much larger blossom size.
Kent Cushman, Monica Ozores-Hampton, Eric Simonne, Eugene McAvoy, Darrin Parmenter, and Teresa Olczyk
Vegetable producers in south Florida suffered the effects of four major hurricanes during 2004 and two during 2005, causing damage to crops and farms estimated at well over 1 billion dollars each year. Producers were quick to respond by replanting or nursing damaged crops back to health. Green beans and leafy crops appeared least likely to recover or produce acceptable yields after exposure to high winds and driving rains. Young tomato plants up to the second or third string were at times completely stripped of leaf material, yet recovered surprisingly quickly. A replant study showed no benefit in replanting compared to keeping damaged plants in the field. Older tomato plants were marginal in their ability to recover with 10% to 60% reductions in yield for first and second harvests when compared to yields common in the region. As much as 100% of Palm Beach County's 2005 early fall bell pepper planting was destroyed by storms. Other peppers in the region were affected by flooding and subsequent development of root diseases such as phytophthora. Damaged eggplant recovered slowly. Research plantings located in commercial fields and at Research and Education Centers were devastated. In addition to loss of crops, costs to vegetable growers included labor to remove damaged plastic and reset stakes, installation of replacement plastic mulches, replanting, and structural damage to buildings and packing facilities. Some transplant houses and greenhouses for specialty peppers were completely destroyed. Removing plastic coverings before a storm's arrival saved structures and crops. Transplants of all crops were in short supply. Labor was lacking due to reconstruction efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Successful and not-so-successful recovery efforts will be shown.
Russell T. Nagata, Kenneth L. Pernezny, Darrin M. Parmenter, Eugene McAvoy, and Kent E. Cushman
Twenty-five varieties of bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) were transplanted in commercial pepper fields in Immokalee and Delray Beach, Fla., to evaluate horticultural characteristics and resistance to race 3 bacterial spot of peppers caused by Xanthomonascampestris pv. vesicatoria. All cultural and management procedures were based on commercial best management practices. Eighty to 90% of marketable fruits had three or four lobes. Total marketable fruit yield from three harvests ranged from 4596 to 7089 kg·ha-1 and marketable fruit number ranged from 20,571 to 31,224 fruit/ha. Most fruit were slightly elongated with length to diameter ratios between 1.1 and 1.2. Seminis 7602 had a ratio of one, while lines ACR 252, PRO2R-3, and PR99R-16 had ratios of 1.40, 1.36, and 1.28, respectively. Significant differences were observed for fruit wall thickness, with those grown in Delray Beach having thicker fruit walls that averaged 7.5 mm vs. 5.3 mm for the Immokalee site. Bacterial spot infection at both sites did not affect yield, due to late natural infection of the field. Susceptible control `Jupiter' had a mean foliage disease incident rating of 26% after the final harvest and was surpassed only by 7682 and 8328 from Enza. The most resistant lines with disease ratings of <3% were 5776, 7141, and 8302 from Seminis, and Telstar from Hazera.
Mary Lamberts, Teresa Olczyk, Phyllis Gilreath, Gene McAvoy, Alicia Whidden, Darrin Parmenter, Ed Skvarch, Yuncong Li, Christine Coffin, and Donald Pybas
Florida, like other states, is developing BMPs for specific commodities. Vegetables are in a statewide document that includes field crops. Vegetable advisory committee members from the counties in southern Florida were concerned that the existing document was too broad in its scope and that many practices did not apply to production on sandy or calcareous soils. Based on grower comments, extension agents organized grower meetings to address these issues. The first meeting was a presentation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Office of Agricultural Water Policy. The second meeting in Miami–Dade was a hands-on session, where growers and industry were divided into three areas—nutrition, pesticides, and water quality. Each group was facilitated by a faculty member or the NRCS conservationist. Other counties used newsletters and other methods to receive grower feedback. Participant comments were compiled and forwarded to FDACS, where they are being incorporated into a greatly revised document. Concerns will be presented.
Monica Ozores-Hampton, Eric Simonne, Eugene McAvoy, Phil Stansly, Sanjay Shukla, Fritz Roka, Tom Obreza, Kent Cushman, Phyllis Gilreath, and Darrin Parmenter
Florida tomato growers generate about $600 million of annual farm gate sales. The Florida Vegetable and Agronomic Crop Water Quality/Quantity Best Management Practices Manual was adopted by rule in the Florida Administrative Code in 2006 and describes cultural practices available to tomato growers that have the potential to improve water quality. By definition, BMPs are specific cultural practices that are proven to optimize yield while minimizing pollution. BMPs must be technically feasible, economically viable, socially acceptable, and based on sound science. The BMP manual for vegetables endorses UF-IFAS recommendations, including those for fertilization and irrigation. Current statewide N fertilizer recommendations for tomato provide for a base rate of 224 kg/ha plus provisions for supplemental fertilizer applications 1) after a leaching rain, 2) under extended harvest season, and 3) when plant nutrient levels (leaf or petiole) fall below the sufficiency range. An on-farm project in seven commercial fields was conducted in 2004 under cool and dry growing conditions, to compare grower practices (ranging from 264 to 468 kg/ha of N) to the recommended rate. Early and total extra-large yields tended to be higher with growers' rate than with the recommended rate, but these differences were significant only in one trial. The first-year results illustrated the need for recommendations to be tested for several years and to provide flexibility to account for the reality of local growing conditions. Working one-on-one with commercial growers provided an opportunity to focus on each farm`s educational needs and to identify specific improvements in nutrient and irrigation management.