An inside look into the agricultural community during the fall season
Words by Molly Britt
The agricultural community in Northeast Florida is one of the most important parts of our community. They are the reason we get our fresh vegetables and gorgeous flowers. I especially love the tasty blueberries we get from so many wonderful local farms. We really do take it for granted. So, why not take a look into what goes on in the agricultural community during the fall season?
Haley Hopkins showed me just what the fall season entails for Congaree and Penn, where she is greenhouse and markets manager. As we walked around the green, spacious land, she told me about their greenhouse. The medium-sized white building shelters various greens and vegetables for the oncoming season and what was left over from last season. Hopkins elaborated that most plants can still grow far into the fall season in Florida due to the mild temperatures, while noting that fall “is a season to transition to winter.”
We walked on to the gardens where she explained more about what changes they make for fall. “We’re transitioning a few of these beds. We’re going to put those fall flowers in,” she said, noting some summer flowers were still thriving in the beds.
What I thought would be a big change was not as drastic as I thought. Congaree and Penn keeps most plants, vegetables and flowers until the temperatures drop beyond their survival. While they wait for the leftovers to die out, they start new gardens with plants, such as cranberry hibiscus, peppers and more, they know will do well with the upcoming weather changes.
As we walked up to one of the beds, Hopkins showed me some of the things they focus on during fall. They take the “gross looking” raised beds and manicure them by adding new dirt and layering organic materials, like compost, to build up the beds. Hopkins also showed how they keep the soil healthy by aerating it with rice holes and explained how she “puts the gardens to bed” by checking for weeds and covering them with mulch. She’ll then add fertilizer to all the beds before adding in their compost complete with earthworms to help (which I saw and loved!).
It was when I walked by what looked like a giant fork—a tool I swear I saw in a horror movie once—that I stopped her. Apparently, it’s not a weapon but a broad fork. It is a way to rough up the compact soil and make it, as Hopkins called it, “loose and fluffy.” I still don’t quite understand how to work it, but it looks like fun.
“The temperatures are finally dropping enough to where you can start doing certain things like starting certain seeds [which cannot survive until the weather cools down],” said Hopkins. “It’s a very small window of time that we are prepping stuff that we want to grow during winter.”
In the farming industry, fall is when both summer and winter overlap, and they wait for vegetables like okra to finish out and plant carrots instead. Fall is a period of renewal for everyone, even plants. They need a break, too. So as we come into a new season of cooler temperatures, thank your farmers…and maybe thank your plants.