Worden Farm Field Notes: December 20

Solstice in Sunny Southwest Florida

The Winter Solstice is tomorrow, and the potential freeze period for our area starts this week. We don’t get a freeze every year, but in some years, we get several. Our crop plan at Worden Farm takes the potential for a freeze into account, so we grow many cold-tolerant crops at this time of year, like kale and carrots, that actually can benefit from a little touch of frost.

Weather is an unpredictable part of farming, and we have been through many freezes over the years. The growing season in Florida has a freeze window right in the middle of it, unlike in the temperate climate growing season up North, which in comparison starts with a “last frost” and ends with a “first frost”. Our freeze window is from around this time through mid February, though we have had them as late as mid-March.

When a freeze is in the forecast, we can prepare for it and try to save the cold-sensitive crops, like tomatoes and peppers, with cold protection techniques like row covers and specialized irrigation practices. Everyone can predict, but nobody really knows, if we will get one this season, so we will just be ready for one if it comes.

Greg, the farm mechanic, finished building one of our harvest wagons, and is close to finishing the second one. The first one was put to use in the fields immediately, and has been helpful during our harvests of peppers, tomatoes, and greens all week.

Swiss Chard is a favorite greens crop of many of our farm members and market customers. It has tender green leaves with red stems, and looks a bit like rhubarb. The leaves have a sweet, spinach-like flavor.

Swiss Chard is difficult to grow in Florida. Many pests enjoy feasting on its tender sweet leaves. It tends to suffer in the sandy soils and with the temperature fluctuations here. Still, we are persistent in trying to grow it here organically.

We have found that carefully timing the planting and harvest is essential to success. Cooler, more consistent temperatures and lower pest populations combine to make this time of year our best window of production for Swiss Chard. We are harvesting some beautiful Swiss Chard for our farm members this week, to enjoy in their holiday meals.

Chris’s parents are visiting for a few weeks from the snowy northern tier of Pennsylvania. It is 4ºF at their home this week. They live on the family farm that was homesteaded in the 1800s. In the early days, it was a diversified farm, growing fruit and vegetables with a mix of poultry and dairy. Through the 1950s until the mid 1980s, dairy was the focus of Chris’s now 93-year-old grandfather, who, after serving in World War II, milked the cows every day, twice a day, for thirty years. The farm currently is in hayfields and is home to a small herd of grass fed beef cattle and dairy goats. When Chris’s parents visit us during the winter holidays in Florida, they enjoy helping on the farm with various tasks, and spending time with their grandchildren.

Celebrating the holidays during the shortest, darkest days of the year, we are reminded to let our own lights shine and to recognize the inner light in us all. Happy holidays!

Some of our delightful Worden Farm members, cheerily making themselves into “W”s for Worden Farm, as we opened the farm gate last week
Chris’s parents, Bill and Donna, in the Florida sunshine, on vacation at the farm


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