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A BUMPER CROP

Florida's weather gives farmers an upside-down growing season. Their harvests begin in fall when summer heat is over.

Florida has its own cycles and seasons. Earliest harvests each fall are south around Homestead and south Dade County, followed by harvests in Naples-Immokalee and Palm Beach County, then the Belle Glade area of the Everglades, then Palmetto-Ruskin, then Zellwood-Apoka, then Ocala-Gainesville and finally far North Florida.

For other crops, the cycle reverses itself. Price will help tell you the progress of the season: The earliest harvest of any crop is usually the most expensive; when you see prices drop, it means there's more available. When a fruit or vegetable is in peak season, prices are at their lowest and the fruit is often at its ripest.

Here's an alphabetical guide to Florida's cornucopia from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and other sources.

It describes when and where the crop and tips on how to shop. These crops are normally available now, with the exception of blueberries, mangoes, pecans and peanuts.

_ CHRIS SHERMAN

Avocadoes June through February from Dade County. Florida avocadoes are West Indian variety, large, smooth-skinned and lower in oil than California Hass avocadoes.

Beans October through June from south Dade County and Gainesville area. Look for pole beans from Homestead in the winter.

Blueberries April through June from Plant City to Gainesville. Perishable and short-lived; buy them when you see them.

Broccoli November through May from Zellwood and Tallahassee. Temperamental crop, available in small quantities.

Cabbage November through June from Everglades, Plant City, Zellwood, Hastings. Steady supply.

Cucumbers September through July from around state. Cukes peak from late April through June.

Carrots November through June from Everglades and Zellwood. Miniature carrots grow in the southern regions.

Cauliflower December through May from Tampa and Zellwood areas; small crop.

Celery November through June from Everglades, Sarasota, Zellwood, Sanford, Oviedo. Steady supply.

Chinese cabbage November through June from Everglades and Zellwood. Look for nappa, bok choy and celery cabbage.

Eggplant September through July from Homestead and eastern Palm Beach County. Peaks in April-May and October-December.

Endive/Escarole October through May from Everglades and Lake Apopka area. Steady supply.

Grapefruit October through July from throughout citrus areas. Most varieties come in white and pink/red color; Duncans, with lots of seeds and high sweetness are available in October, November; other varieties are sweetest in April, May.

Greens November through June from north Florida. Look for turnip, mustard and collard greens.

Limes Year-round from Dade County and southwest Florida. Most Florida-grown are Persian limes; smaller Key limes are usually imported from Mexico and Caribbean.

Lettuce October through May from Everglades and Zellwood area. Steady supply during season.

Mangoes June through August from Dade County, Pine Island. Season is brief; buy when you see them.

Melons November through May from southwest Florida, Arcadia, Ruskin, Leesburg and Ocala. Honeydews available now, canteloupes and watermelons begin in March; watermelons have a second season in October.

Mushrooms Year-round from Zellwood and Quincy. Steady supply; some exotic varieties.

Okra Year-round from throughout state. One of few fresh vegetables in hottest part of summer.

Onions/Leeks October through July from Palmetto-Ruskin and Zellwood. Green onions are scarce, but look for Florida sweet onions (like Vidalias) sold fresh in roadside stands December through April.

Oranges October through July from throughout state. Look for Hamlin and navel varieties before Christmas, then pineapple oranges, Parson Browns and valencias through early summer.

Asian vegetables October through June from eastern Palm Beach County, Tampa area and Everglades. A variety of cabbages, herbs, radishes and broccolis are grown in small amounts for specialty markets.

Pecans October through November from Ocala, Gainesville, Stark, Monticello. Best bought from roadside vendors.

Peppers October through July from Palm Beach, Immokalee and Ruskin. Look for increasing variety in hot and bell peppers.

Parsley November through June from Homestead, Everglades, Apopka. Good supply.

Peanuts (green) May through December from the Ocala area; usually sold on the local market.

Potatoes December through July from Homestead, Naples, Fort Myers and Hastings. Most winter new potatoes come from southwest Florida; many north Florida potatoes are used for chips.

Radishes September through June from Belle Glade and Apopka-Zellwood. Constant supply.

Southern peas October through July from North Central Florida. Black-eyed, crowder and whiteacres are most often sold fresh in those areas.

Squash September through July from throughout state. Wide variety available; hard varieties peak in early spring.

Strawberries November through May from throughout state. Plant City peaks February-March.

Sweet corn September through July from Zellwood and Belle Glade. Look for Super Sweet varieties; biggest peak begins in May.

Tangelo November through February from throughout state. Orlando variety comes first, then reddish-orange Minneolas, which are more tart.

Tangerines September through April from inland citrus areas. Dancy peaks in November and December; sweeter Honey or Murcott January through April.

Temple orange January through March from throughout state. Not a true orange but spicy sweet flavor makes it the best-eating citrus.

Tomatoes September through July from throughout state. Ruskin crop peaks in early March; look for more cherry, Roma and yellow varieties.

Tropical Produce Year-round from Dade County and southwest Florida. Look for carambola from August through March, passionfruit and guava in summer, with a small crop in early winter.

Watercress Year-round, Indian River County.

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