I recently went orange picking in a local citrus U-Pick here in North Florida.
At first glance, the scene was idyllic.
A Victorian-era home with a friendly wraparound porch and an outdoor barn sat near the entrance to the grove. Five gallon buckets of citrus sat on the ground for sale and the elderly proprietors, a man and his wife in their 80s, waved as we pulled up.
“The tangerines are mostly gone and the grapefruit aren’t in yet,” the wife said as we stepped up to the table with the cash box. “You can pick all you like of the oranges, though.”
“What types do you have?” I asked, curious.
“All different kinds. I can’t even tell you anymore,” she replied. “Both juice and eating oranges. All good.”
Walking Through a Florida Orange Grove
I thanked her and set out with my son through the grove. Above were a few stately pecans, overshadowing both thorny seedling trees and well tended oranges.
There were all sorts of oranges and every single one we picked turned out to be delicious; yet as I wandered the grove, I saw quite a few trees with yellow leaves and less-than-healthy growth. A few were half dead and some spots had recently been filled with new trees. It was a beautiful grove at a distance… yet up close, all was not well.
As I walked around, I decided to film the fruit, the trees and the beauty of the grove. I thought to myself: will my children even see a grove like this ten years from now?
We filled three buckets (the cost per bucket was only $6, so why not?) and walked back to the table in front.
The Impact of Citrus Greening Disease
As I checked out, I asked the woman “Have you been having problems with citrus greening?”
She nodded. “We planted this grove a long time ago. Now I don’t know if it’s going to be around in even a few years. Lots of the trees got it. It’s not good.”
I shook my head, offered my condolences, paid with a $20 and told her to keep the change.
It hurt to see those trees and that couple under the cloud of an incurable disease.
Few things represent my home state of Florida more than oranges. They’re a symbol like few other things can be. They’re definitely better loved than alligators.
Yet thanks to citrus greening, the orange industry is falling to pieces.
What does that mean for us, the home growers? Good question.
Should You Still Plant Citrus Trees?
The spread of citrus greening means the tree you buy and plant today is likely to end up dead within a decade unless something changes quickly.
It kills me to say this, since I love my citrus trees and wish I could plant a dozen more — yet the psyllid that has infected the groves is known to travel for miles. That means if you’re in or near a greening infected zone, you’re likely to end up with the disease before too long.
One of the more painful things I’ve had to do over the last few years was to pronounce the last rites over my Mom’s young navel orange tree. She was so happy when that tree was given to her, but only a few years after planting it went into complete decline and was bearing twisted fruits and yellow leaves.
I’ve heard similar stories of citrus trees that were planted in greening zones and rapidly succumbed to the disease.
It’s all across the state and if it’s not in your area, it’s likely to spread there.
Now if you’re outside of Florida, as I know many of our readers are, greening may not be a big deal. The restrictions and challenges that face us here aren’t an issue in some citrus growing regions. If you live outside the shadow of greening, grow some citrus!
For us here in Florida, however, I’d just avoid it until a cure or a resistant variety is found.
My Sad Song about Citrus Greening (Huanglongbing)
To make myself feel better, I used the footage I recorded in the grove and overlaid it with a sad, sad song I wrote on citrus greening (also known as Huanglongbing).
Yes, I write songs about plant viruses. Can you watch this one without weeping?
All About Calamondins
Around Christmas, I also posted a pair of videos on one of my favorite citrus fruits, the “calamondin” or “calamondin lime.”
First I explain the fruit:
And then, a few days later on Christmas Eve, my lovely wife and I decided to make homemade whiskey sours from calamondins.
Much silliness ensued.
Making Whiskey Sours from Fresh Calamondins
To say that I’m really sad over the spread of citrus greening would be an understatement.
I want this thing cured. I love citrus trees.
When I was a kid we had a huge grapefruit tree in our backyard and my Dad built a tree fort for my brother and I in its branches. There were so many grapefruit we could hardly give them all away.
That’s the Florida I want to see again. I fear it may not return, yet I still hold out some hope.
What Will Happen to Florida’s Citrus Groves?
I have started testing out a permaculture solution for citrus greening by creating a plant guild designed to repel the psyllids that spread the disease. It’ll take time to know if it works, though.
For now, send up a prayer for our researchers and our oranges — they need it.
Good luck, folks.
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