Make us your home page

Hernando County growers shiver and hope for warmer weather

BROOKSVILLE — Stacy Strickland was speaking for just about everyone in Hernando County. "I'm just ready for winter to be over," he declared.

As the Hernando County Extension director, he has seen and heard about the local effects of the unusually low temperatures that have clamped down over Florida since January.

Local vegetable and fruit growers have been lying awake for many nights, doing what they can to protect their valuable plants, and hoping alongside coping.

Strickland monitors local crops and takes reports and questions from small-farm owners. Reading from a weather forecast centered on Spring Lake, where most of the county's horticultural produce is grown, Strickland noted temperatures are expected to bottom out at 30 degrees tonight.

So far, fruit and vegetable losses haven't reached substantial levels, reported Laura Langford, executive director of the regional Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If an agricultural disaster is declared, it is the FSA that writes relief checks.

Strawberries and citrus have taken hits, but Langford said she can't yet calculate a crop percentage or dollar loss.

While local produce growers try to assess the damage, they contemplate their coming harvests with fingers crossed.

"I can't worry about what happened in the past. Now's the time to think ahead to spring," said Joann Beasley of Beasley Farms, southeast of Brooksville. "We lost a lot, as all farmers. This (weather) is crazy," said Beasley, whose family enterprise has tilled soil here since the 1960s.

She has been assessing temperatures not just of the air but of the soil, which is still too cold to germinate seeds adequately.

"Normally, it's about time by the end of February, the first of March, to start spring crops, beans and squashes. Those are usually the first two I start with," Beasley said. "I'm not sure (the cold) is over with, so I'm holding off. If (the seeds germinate) then their little heads can freeze off."

As for the cold-hardy crops of the winter season, Beasley said the farm's romaine lettuce was a loss, mustard greens and kale didn't grow well, and collard greens and broccoli suffered unappealing color change. But regular consumers of the latter two know, Beasley said, that the cold has increased their flavor.

Blueberry grower Daniel Ebbecke of Masaryktown is concerned about the period leading up to April 1, when blossoms and forming berries are at their most weather vulnerable.

Bushes remained dormant during the January-February freezes, he said, so they were not affected. "Not yet," he said when asked about damage. "Blueberries are hanging in there."

His vigilance is constant. To monitor his crop's blow with the weather, two weeks ago Ebbecke canceled a trip to Tucson, Ariz., for a meeting of the North American Blueberry Council, to which he'd been elected the Southeastern representative.

Similarly, last weekend he canceled reservations for a tour of Mexican organic blueberry farms. Much as he aims to "roam around and do this better," Ebbecke's goal now is to care for his own budding crop.

"Every four days we have a new (weather) front rolling through," he lamented, his eye on an aerial irrigation system geared to spray his bushes with water.

Citrus seems to be out of the woods. "It's coming back and starting to blossom," said Kathy Oleson of the county's largest commercial citrus endeavor, Boyett's Grove in Spring Lake.

While kumquats and temple oranges suffered "a little loss," she reported, "Valencias (the staple juice orange variety) and honey tangerines and grapefruit are good. The earlier varieties were pretty much done anyway."

Oleson added, "It's the longest cold I can ever remember, the most days of cold I can ever remember. It's made the blossoms late. They're coming, but they're just late."

Beth Gray can be reached at

Hernando County growers shiver and hope for warmer weather 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 7:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board


    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  2. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares nearly 25 percent


    CLEARWATER — Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  3. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower


    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]
  4. Good news: Tampa Bay no longer a major foreclosure capital of the country

    Real Estate

    Once in the top five nationally for foreclosure filings, the Tampa Bay area no longer makes even the top 25.

    A few short years ago, Tampa Bay was a national hub for foreclosures. Not any more. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  5. Tampa-based start-up takes on Airbnb by promoting inclusion, diversity


    NEW TAMPA — Last May, Rohan Gilkes attempted to book a property in Idaho on the home-sharing platform Airbnb. After two failed attempts, the African-American entrepreneur asked a white friend to try, and she was "instantly" approved for the same property and dates.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. Rohan Gilkes, the founder, said he created the organization after several negative experiences with Airbnb.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]