Florida Vegetable Expert: There’s Going to Be Damage Out There

Jim Rogers Corn, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Weather

By Clint Thompson

South Florida’s vegetable crop sustained some damage during last weekend’s cold temperatures. It was too cold not to.

Gene McAvoy, University of Florida/IFAS Regional Vegetable Extension Agent IV Emeritus, said temperatures dipped as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the Immokalee, Florida area. The young watermelon plants were especially at risk.

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Photo courtesy of South Florida Vegetable Grower Facebook Page/Shows older tomatoes following freeze damage last weekend.

“I think watermelons that were not protected, I’m sure were damaged and severely hurt. A lot of our plantings were pretty new, a couple of weeks in the ground. What people do in that situation is they actually take a sheet of paper, newspaper, lay it over the plant and throw some soil on top of the paper. They basically bury that little thing alive,” McAvoy said. “The paper makes it easy to dig back out later. The plants look kind of ugly when you pull them back up. They get a little yellow and a little mashed down, but they grow right back out of that.”

Producers had to be creative in protecting their crop. Normal frost covers utilize the same material used for COVID masks. They were in short supply during a time when growers needed them the most. McAvoy said it was the first time in 14 years South Florida received that kind of cold, frigid weather.

Not all vegetable producers were as fortunate, however.

“I saw a photo a guy sent me of a squash field in Indiantown (Florida), which is on the northside of Lake Okeechobee. It was toast, the entire field,” McAvoy said. “Tomatoes and sweet corn, you’re going to see some burnt tops and things, nothing catastrophic. I haven’t heard of any total crop loss, but there’s going to be some damage out there.”