Chitosan is used as an edible coating material to extend the shelf life of perishable commodities. It is a natural polysaccharide derived from chitin, a main component found in the exoskeleton of crustacean such as crabs, shrimps and insects. Chitosan is nontoxic, biocompatible, biodegradable and has antimicrobial activity that works against a wide range of bacteria and fungi. The incorporation of chitosan into the packaging material or direct application on the food surface helps to inhibit the spoilage caused by microorganisms. Moreover, chitosan has good moisture barrier properties as moisture accelerates the deterioration of many food products, leading to microbial growth, enzymatic reactions, and other forms of spoilage. Chitosan-based coatings or films act as a protective barrier against moisture, helping to maintain the quality of the food and prolong its shelf life. Chitosan can be applied as an edible coating directly onto the surface of fruit, vegetables, and other perishable products. This coating provides a protective layer, retarding moisture loss, reducing microbial contamination, and maintaining product quality for a longer period. Previously, chitosan applications were noticed to be efficient in reducing postharvest decay in strawberries, avocado, papaya, mango, and blueberry.
Blackberry (Rubs spp) belongs to the family Rosaceae and is known as super food due to its high nutritional value containing vitamin C, antioxidants, and phenolic compounds. Blackberry is a deciduous crop that grows best in temperate climates. Several blackberry species are native to Florida, and varieties that performed well in North and North Central Florida include Osage, Chickasaw, Apache, Arapaho, Choctaw, Ouachita, and Kiowa. Recently significant planting of different blackberry varieties has been done in North Florida due to the favorable climatic conditions. However, highly perishable nature of the fruit poses substantial implications for fresh market and storage.
Cold storage is a widespread approach used to extend the shelf life of fruit, including blackberries. Cold storage helps to slow down various biochemical and physiological processes, involving respiration and microbial growth, which are responsible for the deterioration of fruit quality. Blackberry fruit is fragile and highly perishable and must be handled with care. Moreover, blackberry fruit is typically stored no more than 2-3 days at cold temperatures (1 to 2◦C). In addition, blackberries are also susceptible to water loss, fruit softening, fungal rot, mechanical injuries, leakage, and red drupelet reversion.
Chitosan emulsion as pre-harvest spray application significantly reduced fruit weight loss (%) in blackberry fruit stored at 1◦C for 7, 14 and 21 days. Fruit weight loss during cold storage is a critical factor in deciding the blackberry quality. Furthermore, weight loss (%) has correlation with fruit firmness, leakage, red drupelet reversion and marketing index.
Fig 3: Pre-harvest spray application of chitosan emulsion reduced fruit weight loss (%) during the fruit stored at 1◦C for 7, 14 and 21-days Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS
Blackberries stored in cold storage showed signs of mycelium growth if conditions were favorable for fungal development. The most common contaminants during the postharvest handling and storage of blackberry fruit are fungi and molds. Direct application of chitosan on the fruit surface reduced the mycelium growth.
Fig 4: Chitosan treated fruit (A, top photo) with no or little sign of mold, while (B, bottom photo) is control.
Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS
Research trials on the effect of different concentrations of chitosan emulsion alone and in combination with growth bio-stimulants as pre-harvest and postharvest are ongoing at Fruit Physiology Lab, North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy.
You’re in the right hands if you want to grow pumpkins in Florida. While growing pumpkins can be tricky in Florida’s hot and humid climate, you can successfully grow Sunshine State pumpkins with the proper planning and care. Pumpkin is a popular vegetable in the cucurbit family. It shares this family with members of summer and winter squash. The pumpkin varieties differ from those called squashes by having coarser, more intensely flavored flesh and rinds that are softer at maturity than the winter squashes but harder than the summer squashes. Pumpkins refers to certain varieties of C. pepo L., C. moschata Duch. ex Poir., C. mixta Pang., and C. maxima Duch. Local tradition and common usage may dictate that a particular variety is called a squash in one area of the country and a pumpkin in another.
Pumpkin Varieties Choosing the right pumpkin variety is a major decision when growing pumpkins in Florida. Not all pumpkin varieties are suited to Florida’s warm and humid climate. Seminole Pumpkin is a native pumpkin variety well-suited to the state’s warm and humid environment. Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable for Florida gardens. Seminole pumpkins are known for their hardiness and resistance to disease and pests. The Big Max variety is known for producing giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 100 pounds or more. Big Max pumpkins do well in Florida’s warm climate but may require extra care to prevent pests and diseases. The Jack-o-Lantern variety is the classic Halloween pumpkin for carving and decorating. Look for types suited to warm climates, such as “Funny Face” and “Big Moon.” The Pie Pumpkin variety is best used for cooking. If you plan to use your pumpkins for cooking, look for pie pumpkin varieties such as “Small Sugar” and “Early July.” These pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins and are ideal for making pies, bread, and other baked goods.
Most pumpkin varieties need around four months to reach maturity. Pumpkins should be seeded by early July to be ready for Halloween. Spring pumpkins planted in March or April can be stored for use in October and November (though long storage is difficult in Florida). Early August seeding provides a fall crop for late November. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for your pumpkin patch. Pumpkins can be grown in small gardens or containers if you need more space. Plant your pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep and should be placed 6 feet in either direction, except for the bush types. Plant 3-4 seeds per hill, then thin when the plants are 2-4 inches tall.
Once your pumpkin seeds have sprouted, it’s time to start caring for your plants. Pumpkins need consistent moisture to grow, so be sure to water them regularly. Aim to give your plants about 1-2 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly after planting to help the seeds settle in. Climbing varieties like Seminole can be trellised for more space while using slings to support larger fruits. Use a balanced fertilizer to help your pumpkins grow strong and healthy. Apply the fertilizer according to the package instructions. Pumpkins do well with large amounts of compost. Place compost under each hill before seeding. Side dress with a handful every three weeks or as needed. Keep an eye out for pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles, which can damage your plants. If you notice any signs of pests or disease, treat your plants with a pesticide or fungicide as needed.
Like other cucurbits, pumpkins need bees for pollination to produce fruit. Bees are the primary pollinators for pumpkins, so make sure to plant flowers and other plants that attract bees to your garden. Each plant holds male and female flowers, and knowing the difference between them is essential. Male flowers have a long, thin stem and no fruit behind the flower. Female flowers have a swollen, bulbous base that will eventually become pumpkins. It’s essential to have a good balance of male and female flowers to ensure a proper fruit set. If large-size fruits are desired, keep only two fruits on the vine. Once two fruits are the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form.
Harvest and Storage
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the skin is hard, and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 2 inches above the pumpkin. After harvesting, allow your pumpkins to cure in a cool, dry place for 10-14 days. Curing helps the skin to harden and protect the pumpkin from pests and diseases. Once your pumpkins are cured, store them in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Avoid storing them on concrete or damp surfaces, which can cause them to rot. Pumpkins keep for a few weeks, but long-term storage of 1–4 months is challenging in Florida. Store them in a dry (70% RH) and cool (50–60°F) place where possible.
Want to grow a vegetable garden but don’t know where to start?
Raised bed gardens give you the ability to put a garden anywhere you have at least six hours of sunlight and access to water, regardless of your native soil type.
See the fact sheet below (Or Click Here for the downloadable PDF version!) for tips on how to build a raised bed vegetable garden. And be sure to reach out to your local Extension office with any questions!
Come on down to the farm! The 15th Annual Farm Tour is October 15 and 16. Image by Millstone Institute of Preservation.
Fall is upon us, and that means it is farm tour season!
The 15th Annual Farm Tour is on Saturday, October 15 and Sunday, October 16, 2022. Farmers and producers in 12 counties in North Central Florida and South-Central Georgia will be open to showcase their various farming endeavors. It is a free family weekend of learning, exploration, and fun.
The Farm Tour has been organized and hosted by Millstone Institute of Preservation since 2016. It gives the community the chance to explore local producers in our area and become familiar with the farmers that make up our diverse local food system.
There are 40 farms, ranches, farm-to-table restaurants, markets, vendors, and gardens (including the Leon County “VegHeadz” Demonstration Garden on Saturday!) participating in this year’s Farm Tour, some of which have never participated in the past.
There is much to explore during the 15th Annual Farm Tour, including heritage breed livestock. Photo by Rachel Mathes.
The sites span nearly 140 miles east to west, from Greenville, Florida, to Chipley, Florida, and about 80 miles north to south, from Whigham, Georgia, to Crawfordville, Florida.
Each farm is open to the public at no cost, providing the opportunity for participants to learn the importance of supporting local agriculture and how they can do so.
There are many different types of farms to explore, including seeing a multitude of processes and demonstrations firsthand, such as honey harvesting, cow and goat milking, sawmill operating, bamboo extracting, horse grooming, compost turning, flower arranging, seed saving, wine manufacturing, sausage creating, satsuma juicing, cheese making, kombucha brewing, and much more.
You can also sample and purchase local products at many farm tour sites, including local honey, beeswax and honey products, local eggs, homemade breads, fresh veggies, various locally produced meats (bring a cooler!), pumpkins, vegetable seedlings, kombucha, muscadine wines, handmade soaps, fruit trees, cookbooks, and more. Many locations will also be serving food for sale, such as falafel and hummus; baked goods; beef, bacon, and pork burgers; ice cream and coffee; satsuma slushes, cookies, jellies, and syrups; and much more.
Join us via Zoom on Saturday, August 7, for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Graphic by Molly Jameson.
Join Us August 7 for the 2021 Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop
Planting vegetable seeds and growing a garden is a great way to get outdoors and appreciate nature. Since 2015, the Leon County Public Library has supported gardeners in Leon County by providing vegetable seed packets for patrons to take home and plant in their gardens.
During the virtual workshop, Extension agents will discuss planting seeds, growing vegetables, and how to incorporate veggies into healthy meals and snacks. The workshop coincides with the first day the seeds in the Fall 2021 Seed Library will become available. Residents of Leon County can check out three sample seed packets per month with their library cards from all Leon County library branches.
Even if you are not a resident of Leon County, everyone is welcome to join us at the virtual workshop. Along with the gardening portion of the workshop, there will also be a live virtual cooking demonstration featuring vegetables available in the Fall 2021 Seed Library Program.
Here is the list of the vegetable seed varieties that will be available starting August 7: Common Arugula, Waltham 29 Broccoli, Chantenay Red Core Carrots, Michihili Chinese Cabbage, Slo-bolt Cilantro, Alabama Blue Collards, Early White Vienna Kohlrabi, Rocky Top Salad Blend Lettuce, Pink Beauty Radishes, and Tokinashi Turnips.
Bananas are a great choice for your landscape, whether as an edible fruit producer or simply as an ornamental, giving your space a tropical vibe.
Bananas are native to southeast Asia, however, grow well across Florida. Complementary plants that can be paired with bananas in the landscape are bird of paradise (banana relative), canna lily, cone ginger, philodendron, coontie, and palmetto palm, just to name some.
Bananas are very easy to manage during the warmer months. Bananas are water loving, and that’s putting it lightly. Planting in vicinity of an eave on your home is a good measure for site suitability. Roof rainwater will drastically increase the growth of the banana tree and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation. Banana trees will need full sun and high organic moist soils create the best environment. For nutrition, a seasonal one-pound application of 6-2-12 fertilizer is a good practice to sustain older trees. Young trees should be fertilized every two months for the first year at a rate of a half-pound.
Musa basjoo is one of the most cold hardy banana varieties. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
If there is a con to banana trees, it’s their cold hardiness. Some varieties fair well and others some not so much. ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ (Musa acuminate) is a popular variety that is found in many garden centers in the state. It produces fruit very well, but it is not very cold hardy. ‘Pink Velvet’ (Musa velutina) produces fruit with a bright pink peel, but isn’t very cold hardy either. A couple of cold hardy ornamental varieties are the ‘Japanese Fiber’ (Musa basjoo) and ‘Black Thai’ (Musa balbisiana), which is by far the most cold hardy, with the ability to easily combat below freezing temperatures.
Freeze damage on a banana tree. Photo Credit: Ray Bodrey, University of Florida Extension – Gulf County
Regardless of cold hardiness, in many cases, banana trees will turn brown after freezing temperatures occur or even if the temperatures reach just above the freezing mark, but will bounce back in the spring. Until then, it’s important not to prune away the brown leaves or trunk skin. These leaves act as an insulator and help defend against freezing temperatures. Usually, the last freezing temperatures that may occur in the Panhandle are around the first of April. So, to be safe, pruning can begin by mid to late April. When pruning, be sure to be equipped with a sharp knife, gloves and work clothes. Banana trunk skin and leaves can be quite fibrous and the liquid from the tree can stain clothing and hands.
So, what’s the best variety of fruiting bananas? Most ornamental bananas do not produce tasty fruit. If you are looking for a production banana, ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Apple’, and ‘Ice Cream’ are popular varieties, but are better suited for the central and southern parts of the state.
For more information, contact your local county extension office.