“We originally had a scheme for doing about 15 acres, and figured the extra land we had would give us room to rotate ground,” he says. “We do concentrate on rotating crops. We have about 40 acres, but get multiple crops off each acre. On some, we do three to five plantings a year; on other ground, only one.”

They grow tomatoes, eggplants,strawberries and peppers — longer-term crops —on plastic ground cover. The rest of the farm is planted on bare beds. Timing planting is doubly important, considering many of their customers are winter-only residents in the area.

“Our peak is January through March, when the ‘snowbirds’ are here,” Chris says. “We try to be at maximum production during that period. We start harvesting some crops as early as October, which means we’re planting all the way back to June 1.

“In all our fields we have the capacity to switch pretty fast from plastic to open beds. We also put two pipes in the ground for irrigation, and can do either drip or overhead watering.”

The farm’s irrigation system was carefully designed from the start and relies on ponds for the water supply.

“We worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency and with the Florida Department of Agriculture, who helped design it, and both helped with cost-share,” Chris says.

“We focus on efficient use of water — 70 percent of the farm is on drip. This is sand, and poorly drained; there’s a spodic layer, a hard layer, 30 inches deep in the soil. Beds are really necessary for farming here, and plastic mulch is needed for strawberries.

We could flood irrigate these fields well. Overhead is 50 percent more efficient than flooding, though. Drip is 50 percent to 60 percent more efficient than overhead.

“We have several wells to recharge the ponds, but they generally don’t need recharging. It’s a 30-foot depth to water here, and there are artesian wells on the property. All this ground has been farmed, historically. It has been in woods and it has been logged; it has been in pasture and it’s had watermelons on it. When we bought it, it was pretty rundown — it looked sort of abandoned.”

Fertility brought it to life.Muchof their nutritional program involves composted chicken litter, sterilized by heat treatment.

“It helps with micronutrients, as well as providing some organic matter,” Chris says. “It gives a residual, slow release of nutrients.”

For pest problems, they use compounds approved for organic use. For insects, that’s likely to be Dipel. A bio-fungicide, Serenade, helps with diseases. “The effectiveness of these chemicals is not an immediate fix,” Chris says.

“A preventive approach is best. That’s why creating a habitat for beneficial insects is important for us. The beneficials will live in the weeds or on some of the trees in our field borders.”

The Wordens voice no antagonism toward conventional growers who use pesticides. “Conventional is not for me,” Chris says, “but I don’t feel threatened by them. I can learn a lot from them about how to do things like throw up beds, lay out a field and cultivate. I often like to see how they manage their fields.

“We use some of the same chemicals they do. It would be nice if their programs were all based on an environmentally sound arsenal. I think a lot of them do make an effort to do that.”

The Wordens feel kinshipwith just about every farmer.