An Assortment of Variety Trials in the Ground
After a hot and very wet summer, there was a brief snap of coolness in the air…enough to signal to our farmers that it’s time to plant cole crops. “Cole” is derived from the Latin word “caulis” that means stalk or stem. Brassica is the scientific name for cole crops, and these vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and various types of greens. At the UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center, we are in the process of planting our Brassica trials this week (Oct 5-9, 2020). We hope to host a field day for growers soon to showcase our fall crops, but in the meantime, we encourage any interested growers to make individual appointments with your local Extension Agent to tour these ongoing trials.
The most predominant cole crop in the TCAA is cabbage, and staggered planting dates typically start around mid-September and extend through mid-February. In 2018, the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service reported a total of 8,900 harvested acres of cabbage in Florida, which is up 3% from the previous year. More than 50% of that cabbage is grown in the Tri-County Agriculture area of Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam Counties. The Hastings Center conducts trials every year on cabbage, and they continue to research strategic approaches for combatting the diamondback moth (DBM) that devastates entire fields upon infestation. The DBM has been the principal pest in Florida cabbage since the 1980’s and UF researchers in Hastings continue to trial new treatment strategies to help curb the damage. Dr. Hugh Smith is repeating a trial with 7 different insecticide combinations and monitoring the establishment of DBM for each combination.
Broccoil & Brussels
Broccoli and brussels sprouts trials will also be planted this week at the Hastings Center. Dr. Lincoln Zotarelli heads up the USDA Eastern Seaboard Broccoli trial working with over 20 varieties. The mission of this grant-funded project is to secure a year-round broccoli market along the East Coast and remove the dependency we have on west coast broccoli in hopes of bringing down costs and lowering the carbon footprint associated with the transport across the country. For the Florida sites, the particular focus is to select broccoli varieties that are heat tolerant and to make those better-adapted hybrids available for our local growers. Brussels sprouts are a nutritious superfood that have succeeded very well in our last three years of research in Hastings. This year we expanded our varietal selection from 4 to 8 varieties to measure harvest yield and days to maturity.
Though it is not a cole crop, we planted 11 varieties of lettuce on September 22, 2020, to determine the preferred varieties in our area based on productivity and quality. Since germination of lettuce seeds require temperatures in the mid 70’s at night, all of our transplants were grown in Blairsville, GA, and delivered to Hastings on the day of planting. We planted approximately ½ acre of lettuce in a plasticulture system using plastic mulch and fertigation through drip lines. Plasticulture is used to help promote fertility and moisture retention in sandy soil conditions. Most of the lettuce in Florida is currently grown in the Everglades Agriculture Area in muck soils where plasticulture is not necessary. However, there may be a market advantage for growing “early” lettuce in North Florida (compared to South Florida) due to cooler temperatures.
We also planted two phases of fall sweet corn, showcasing a total of ten different varieties on two acres. Five seed companies donated the seed and we will be recording days to maturity, ears (or crates) per acre, husked and unhusked weights, and grade quality for each variety. Planting dates were August 31, 2020 (Phase I) and September 23, 2020 (Phase II), so we anticipate our first harvest to occur the first week of November.