December is a wonderful time of year in St. Johns County!
Our local breweries team up for the annual “Nights of Pints” event where you can purchase one t-shirt and receive a complimentary beer at each brewery. Jenna Alexander Studios offers the “Moonlight Market” for local vendors in downtown St. Augustine. The Nutcracker is in performance by the St. Augustine Ballet Company at Flagler College.
Needless to say, there are a plethora of activities in the county during the holiday season. But what about the activities in the farming community?
While December may be down time for many of us, it is a busy time of year for the SJC farming community. While cabbage and broccoli has been planted for months and wrapping up its final transplant days, sod production is in constant operation. This perennial crop may slow down in the winter, it still needs attention.
Leafy greens have a shorter cycle than these 60-80 day Brassicas, and are in rotation through the early spring, with these back to back freeze events being a major burden on the farmers. Frost protection requires covering the plants with cloth without actually touching the plants – more like a tent. That is why hoop houses are convenient for this type of crop.
St. Johns County is home to Hastings – the Potato Capital of Florida, but potato seeds are not planted until mid-January. While these many of these fields were previously legumes, there is a roughly 30-day gap between beans and starches. During this time, farmers fumigate the soil.
When a home is unfortunately infested with termites, the structure is covered and fumigated. This is the process of releasing a gaseous chemical into the space or environment to control pests. The same practice is applied to soil prior to planting crops. While it helps to reduce weed pressures and soilborne diseases, one of the primary reasons for fumigation is to suppress nematodes. In sandy soils, nematodes (microscopic, unsegmented roundworms) can be very prolific and damaging to crops. This not only applies to farmland, but even in residential gardens as well – another good reason to apply compost and improve your soil! Some cover crops naturally suppress nematodes because they do not act as a good host, so populations decline.
As our fields are getting prepped, another major delivery is coming throughout the month of December – potato seeds. Florida is the winter capital for potato production because while northern states’ soils are frigid cold, we can still plant and operate. Seeds come in from Canada (PEI), Idaho and Maine, along with a few others. Semi-trailers loaded with seeds arrive ready for farmers to open their barns to store seeds, which are just potatoes that have been cut into smaller pieces. Those eyes will eventually grow into stems, providing more potatoes for harvest around April.
While many of us associate December with office Christmas parties, Black Friday shopping and interstate travels, for St. Johns County farmers, it is one of the busiest times of the year. While we celebrate with our friends and families, don’t forget to thank a farmer for all the good food on your holiday dinner table.