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Alachua County Farmers, Homeless Preparing For Late-Season Freeze

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Farmers, homeless people and others in Alachua County are making preparations for the freeze expected for tonight across North Central Florida.

Roy Brown, owner and operator of Brown’s Farm in Hawthorne, Florida, has been watering his corn, beans, squash, watermelon and other plants today, and he also covered the more sensitive ones to protect them from frost.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said, “a lot of intense labor.”

Gainesville strawberry farmer Larry Rogers is making the same preparations.

“We’re covering them right now, and if it gets too low, we’ll crank the pump and run the drip on them, too,” said Rogers, owner of Rogers Farm. “It raises the temperature about 10 degrees. Water will cause the heat to come up instead of going down.”

A freeze — which in Florida is classified as 32 degrees or below — is expected tonight across Alachua County and surrounding counties, while a hard freeze — a temperature of 27 degrees or lower for two hours or more — is forecasted for farther north, from the city of Alachua and up Interstate 75.

A forecast map shows the areas predicted for tonight’s freeze and hard freeze.

 

A March freeze is unusual, WUFT News meteorologist Jeff Huffman said, but a hard freeze is almost unique.

“When it comes to a hard freeze, this is in rare territory,” he said. “It’s almost unprecedented that we get a hard freeze this late in the year.”

The last time Gainesville experienced a hard freeze was March 22, 1960, putting tonight’s eight days short of the record.

Along with farmers, the people most affected by freezes are perhaps the homeless, who often seek shelter at places like Gainesville’s GRACE Marketplace homeless center.

GRACE offers expanded overnight shelter services during cold nights.

When temperatures drop below 40 degrees, GRACE makes sleeping space on the floor, offers blankets and provides breakfast in the morning, said Jon DeCarmine, the center’s operations director.

“We typically operate at 100 percent capacity, but we open up [beyond that] for cold-night shelter,” he said. “We keep the shelters open all night long.”

Meanwhile, home gardeners should also be preparing, said Shirley Marcoux, an employee of Gainesville’s Garden Gate Nursery.

They should do so by covering all their plants, she said.

“Just sheets even work,” Marcoux said, but frost clothes work even better. These are made from a special material used for protecting plants during cold weather.

If possible, plant owners could instead bring their plants inside, Marcoux said.

Brown, the Hawthorne farmer, has backup crops planted if he loses his grown ones to a freeze or something else, but those will miss the market by two or three weeks.

“We hope the weatherman is not correct,” Brown said.

About Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson is a reporter for WUFT News. She can be reached at a.nelson1@ufl.edu or 772-538-2264.

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