EAST COUNTY — As Eden Farms and Market kicks off the season of its most profitable crop of the year, with more than 16,000 hydroponically grown strawberries filling the property, it’s not apparent that a few months prior, owner Sam Caruso’s crops — and livelihood — were drowning.
Although tomatoes are usually visible this time of year on Caruso’s farm, the second best-selling crop has been delayed until at least the beginning of December, due to the wettest July in Florida’s history.
Caruso hopes eventually to construct a greenhouse or other type of area to keep his seedlings and other fruits and vegetables, such as the tomatoes, safe from extreme weather conditions.
“Had we been a bigger guy, we might have had something to protect them,” Caruso said. “But, we just aren’t there, yet.”
Caruso said although the summer weather hurt his business, he and his wife, Joann, are looking forward to sunny days for the strawberry season.
Due to the warm Florida climate and lack of cold weather days, the red berries are shipped in from Montreal when they are about 4 to 5 inches tall. Since the strawberries rely mostly on the hydroponic system to give them the nutrients they need, the mass amounts of rain hitting the ground last summer had no affect on Caruso’s biggest seller.
Caruso said the strawberries are right on time this year.
The couple, who operates and mans the fields together, opened their gates for patrons to come purchase and choose their own fresh produce, “u-pick,” the first week of November.
Six miles away, the story of the growing season sounds similar. O’Brien Family Farms lost more than 20 acres of watermelon to “washouts,” Field Manager Raul Vasquez said. He and his team later decided to use a double crop system in their fields.
“Double cropping” is a technique where the farm staff utilizes an area, by putting a crop, strawberry plants, where another crop, watermelons, failed in order to still use the land and get a head start on the next season, for example.
They cut their losses and moved forward.
Despite the hard-hitting summer, Vasquez, too, has a positive outlook on the current produce season, with strawberries also coming out in a timely, if not earlier, fashion. He also has hopes of a chilly next few months to help the strawberries grow, he said.
As two Bradenton growers hold tightly to their high expectations for what’s ahead and put lost dollars and plants behind them, the farms kicked off what growers hope to be a profitable season.
“The season has already started out pretty well, but Mother Nature will have the final word in things,” Caruso said.
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