Next to beans, peppers, tomatoes, okra, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant and squash rank high among the quick-money, short-time crops of Volusia County and all South Florida. By alternating these with root crops, such as beets, carrots and potatoes, both white and sweet, the Florida farmer can spread his risks over a three-crop season with the practical certainty that he will at least break even, and a much better than even chance that two out of three, if not all, of his crops will yield him profits on a scale which few northern farmers ever realize. Many farmers, of course, do not give themselves the protection of the three-crop routine, lacking either the capital or the energy to pursue their farming around the seasons. The temptation is strong to take a long vacation and go fishing in the Summer. Many others specialize in a single crop.
Celery in this and some other regions of Florida is one of the most stable of the six-month crops, warranting by its high cash returns the investment of several hundred dollars an acre which it requires. Net profits of as high as a thousand dollars an acre are not uncommon from celery. Another highly profitable farming specialty in Volusia County is watermelons, which require little attention, yield a carload to three acres and rank high in the northern markets to which they are shipped in May. Watermelons are often grown in the same fields with corn, which does particularly well in Volusia County, averaging thirty bushels to the acre, or about double the usual Florida yield. Florida is not essentially a corn state, relying mainly on other feeds for its poultry and livestock. Volusia County, for example, imports several thousand tons of beet root pulp from Denmark to feed its dairy cattle.
The development of high grade dairies, with pure bred registered herds of the best known milk producing breeds is one of the most important advances in Florida since 1925. The state’s modern milk and dairy laws, rigidly enforced, have greatly stimulated dairy farming and have brought up the standard of milk readily obtainable everywhere to grades conforming to the highest standards which obtain anywhere. The tick eradication has been so successful that practically every county in the state is now tick free and the breeding up of the range cattle into high grade beef stock is making headway in this typical county as elsewhere in Florida. Resulting from the interest in improving the grades of cattle there has come about not only the practice of fencing in pasture lands and sowing better grades of grasses for forage, but the cultivation of forage crops for winter feeding and fattening, thus changing the Florida agricultural picture in a few years from one of primitive pioneer methods to one of diversification and modern scientific farming.
Some of the earliest experiments in Florida’s newest tree crop, the tung, have been carried out in Volusia County. Florida is building great hopes on the development of this new horticultural industry. Not to be confused with the tung oil or Chinawood oil tree is one of Volusia County’s prolific vegetable sources of income, the deer-tongue. The deer-tongue is a wild shrub whose lance-shaped leaves, a foot or more long, give it its name because of their fancied resemblance to the tongue of a deer. They have a strong and pleasant aroma, from which they derive their other common name of “vanilla leaf,” and their market is with the manufacturers of cigarettes, who blend the deer-tongue, which when dried has the same color and texture as the tobacco, to impart a pleasant flavor and aroma to the cigarette smoke. About $1,500 a week is earned by the deer-tongue gatherers in the woods of Volusia County.
An agricultural industry of considerable importance which flourishes in Volusia County, perhaps more intensively than in other parts of Florida, although it is practiced widely through out the state, is the raising of ferns for the Northern market. The greater proportion of the asparagus ferns used by Eastern florists as a decorative background for cut flowers are grown in Florida ferneries, of which there are 125 in this one county alone. Ferns can be grown on high pine land or high hammock land out-of-doors the year around. They have to be grown under shade, which is most economically provided by a grove of live-oaks, but in most Florida ferneries artificial shade is achieved by skeleton structures of laths spaced a couple of inches apart. These slat ferneries often cover several acres. About 40,000 ferns are planted to the acre. The sprays can be cut every six weeks, and most fern growers count on a minimum of six cuttings a year.
Florida and Volusia County send other things besides ferns to northern florists. A steadily growing proportion of the Easter lilies, which formerly were imported from Bermuda, and gladiolus and other bulbs and their flowers has been produced in Florida since the Federal embargo on imported bulbs became effective in 1926. The largest Easter lily field anywhere in America is at Holly Hill, Volusia County, where seven acres are devoted to this one crop. The Easter lily plantation was begun in 1934 on the site where 18th Century English colonists had operated an indigo plantation. In 1937, 45,000 bulbs were shipped at profitable prices. National Gardens, in Volusia County, is a center, among other things, of gladiolus cultivation, shipping large quantities both of bulbs and of flowers.
Florida is, in effect, an outdoor greenhouse.
Still in its infancy, the poultry industry of Florida is well represented in Volusia County. Poultry, like many of the other items of diversified farming, was too trivial a thing for the Florida pioneers to bother with. The men who planted the great sugar plantations and the early orange groves left such things as chickens and garden truck to their employees or slaves. The result is that with the rapid influx of new population and the enormous growth in the volume of winter tourists Florida’s domestic demand for poultry and eggs is more than four times the capacity of Florida poultry raisers to supply. Florida imported 450,000 dozen eggs in 1936, and threequarters of all of the poultry meat consumed by residents and visitors. With this market lying at its door, Florida has been attempting to develop its own poultry industry on a large scale. Here again, as in the case of many other farm products, the problem had to be studied from the ground up. Northern experience in poultry raising is not much of a guide in the presence of entirely different types of vermin, parasites and endemic poultry diseases, but a high degree of success has been achieved since 1925 in poultry raising on a large scale. The returns per year per hen run enough higher than those obtained on northern poultry farms to warrant the higher risk and cost of feed which are partly offset by the lower cost of land and buildings.