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Cold mostly spares Hernando County crops

For Donald Pollock, installing a new sign on Brooksville’s Cortez Boulevard was a test Wednesday. “You can’t wear gloves because everything’s so small and your hands tend to freeze up,” he said. “But I don’t mind it. It’s a lot better than sitting at home wishing you were working.”

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

For Donald Pollock, installing a new sign on Brooksville’s Cortez Boulevard was a test Wednesday. “You can’t wear gloves because everything’s so small and your hands tend to freeze up,” he said. “But I don’t mind it. It’s a lot better than sitting at home wishing you were working.”

Growers of fruit, vegetables and other plants breathed another sigh of relief early Wednesday morning.

Once again, they had been largely spared.

The official temperature at the Hernando County Airport dipped to 23 degrees about midnight. But then it inched up the rest of the morning, keeping damage to a minimum.

Still, more freezing temperatures are in store.

The temperature was expected to fall into the low 20s once again overnight. And while a slight warmup is expected today and Friday, weekend lows are forecast to drop to near 20.

"There's no end in sight for the next week," cautioned Stacy Strickland, director of the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service.

Added berry grower George Casey, southwest of Brooksville: "I think we're taking it one day at a time."

The Casey family expressed some dismay Wednesday morning over a commercial strawberry plot planted atop black plastic and under irrigation sprinklers as a frost retardant. The miniature berries looked as if they will be mushy, Casey reported.

"I think it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before we know," he said.

His wife, Joan, said the night's low on the black plastic hit 14 degrees when the air temperature in the field stood at 21 degrees.

Of another plot under fiberglass cloth covers, George Casey said, "Preliminarily, it looks right now (those berries) came through."

Strickland, along with the extension service's regional commercial horticulture specialist, Gary England, checked out a commercial blueberry patch in eastern Hernando County on Wednesday morning.

"It's looking pretty good," Strickland said.

They had been called to the farm because some of the bushes had pushed out blooms, earlier than the usual February blossoms. That puts the crop at its highest potential for damage.

The pair of experts also toured area citrus groves.

"It's looking pretty good as far as fruit and tree damage," said England, who is based in Sumter County. "There's maybe some slush in some fruit."

Boyett's Grove in Spring Lake, Hernando's largest citrus producer, sits on relatively high ground, said co-owner Katherine Oleson, and the temperature didn't fall low enough early Wednesday to do any significant damage.

"It only got to 28 (degrees). You've got to get to 25 to 27 for five to seven hours (for damage)," she said. "We're pretty good."

Lemons and limes are most susceptible to the cold, Oleson said, but young tree stock of any of the citrus family is vulnerable.

Oleson's son, Jeff, in charge of the grove's nursery, has been using a sprinkler system to cover the young trees with water since the onset of the cold spell.

In the vegetable fields at Beasley Farm east of Brooksville, Joann Beasley reported no problems Wednesday.

"The broccoli looks good, and that's one of the things I was worried about," Beasley said.

Of the farm's leafy greens, she said: "Some people say they get sweeter when it's cold, so these will be really, really sweet."

But, she acknowledged, "If it gets down into the teens, I'll be really worried."

Rick Capote, owner of Aventura Nursery, with plots in Spring Hill and Masaryktown, said he suffered about $125,000 in losses of tropical species during a cold snap last winter. So he changed directions this year.

"We got hit hard, so we didn't have lots of tropicals this year," Capote said.

As the cold spell continues, all of the growers agree on one thing: Compared with a one- or two-day snap, the long spell is taking a greater toll on them than on their plants so far.

Berry grower Casey said it has been a strain on his body clock — getting up repeatedly during the night to check that sprinklers are working, water lines haven't broken, pumps are working and temperatures are remaining within a tolerable range.

"We're getting down to where it's routine," Casey said. "That's kind of scary."

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

FAST FACTS

Help for people and plants

• For shelter assistance during the cold snap, call Jericho Road Ministries at (352) 799-2912.

• To inquire about crop assistance, call the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service at (352) 754-4433.

• For advice and questions about home landscaping, contact the extension service's Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program at (352) 754-4433.

Cold mostly spares Hernando County crops 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 8:53pm]
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