Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A very unusual Honeybell harvest this year

The New Year always starts with a bang thanks to Honeybell season. The fruit matures in early to mid- January and usually only lasts for a few weeks before the fruit becomes overly mature. Demand always exceeds supply at the start of the year and crews fan across the state to harvest the first Honeybells and rush them back to the packing house amidst a cacophony of ringing phones and recipients desperate for their Honeybell fix.

Of course the Honeybell season actually begins quietly, in the Spring, when the rising temperatures and Spring rains cause the Honeybells, and all citrus varieties, to burst into bloom. The air is filled with their sweet perfume and it seems that there is nothing more wonderful than the smell of citrus blossoms carried on the breeze.

But in the Spring of 2015 something very unusual happened: the Honeybell trees blossomed as they always do in early March. But, imagine our surprise when, three weeks later, they bloomed again! We can’t remember this ever happening before. Ten months on we were confronted with the unusual situation of having essentially two crops on each tree, one maturing three weeks later than the other.

The picture above, taken on January 23rd, 2016, shows two Honeybells side by side on the tree, partially obscured by leaves. The Honeybell on the left is orange-red in color and has the classic Honeybell flavor. The one on the right is yellow in color, and while it has good Honeybell flavor, its acid level is higher, making it more tart. Sampled alone, both would be enjoyable. But when sampled together you would be inclined to think that the one on the right is not fully ripened.

As you can see, It’s not that easy to distinguish between the two on the tree. Many have chosen to harvest all the fruit at once. But packed together in the same gift box, the contrast would be most apparent. We elected to treat them as two different crops, letting the piece of fruit on the right, and all other like-minded Honeybells, continue to ripen and reach peak flavor and maturity. To accomplish this, we trained each individual harvester in the field to distinguish between the two blooms on the tree.

No one is perfect, so we also trained each packer to recognize the two blooms in an effort to ensure that no mistakes made it into the gift fruit cartons. Only then did we begin harvesting the first bloom and filling fruit requests.

We have almost completed the first pass and are now looking at harvesting the second flush of fruit just now reaching its color and flavor peak. Weather permitting, the Honeybell season could last through February, and that is very unusual indeed.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

California Citrus vs. Florida Citrus: Which Should You Choose?

Here’s a quiz for you: which beach is in California and which beach is in Florida?

Both scenes are beautiful, but if you guessed that A is in Florida and B is in California, you’re right. In both pictures, we see sand, surf, palm trees, and a warm-weather paradise…but that aqua-blue water gives us away!

Just like these two beaches, oranges and other citrus from Florida and California may look similar at first glance--but they’re actually very different. Let’s take a look at how Florida citrus compares to California citrus, so that you, the consumer, can make an informed choice.

    According to famous author John McPhee, who wrote an entire book about oranges, Californians say you have to “get into a bathtub” before you eat a Florida orange, while Floridians say you can’t make a damp spot on pavement with a California orange, even if you run it over with a truck! This difference is all about rainfall. Down here, as all of us who live here know, we get more than plenty. (It storms just about every afternoon in summer!) Out in California, especially recently, it’s often bone dry.

    • California oranges are “orange-r.”
    Why? Weather again. The nights in California are chillier than they are here in extra-balmy Florida, and cooler weather (below 55 degrees) brings out the deeper orange. In particular, you may notice that Florida navels are paler in color than California navels. However, deepness of color is not an indicator of deepness of taste! Did you know that in tropical countries, oranges often ripen completely without really turning orange at all?

      • Florida oranges are bigger.
        So…does size matter? Well, yes and no. Customers expect oranges to be a certain size—it’s just what they’re used to. Here in Florida, navels sometimes get so big (think bigger than a softball!) that they’re a bit hard for us to sell. Likewise, some varieties turn out kind of puny on the West Coast.

          • California citrus is more likely to have a flawless finish.
            All our afternoon rainstorms can get a little, well, stormy, meaning our trees get blown around a bit. When this happens, our fruit may end up with a few superficial scars and scratches. Personally, we like to think it adds character. But if you want a picture-perfect orange that looks almost like it could be made of plastic, a California orange might be what you’re looking for. Their lives tend to be a bit more sheltered

            • Florida oranges are thinner-skinned.

            The higher humidity and rainfall here in Florida make for a thinner-skinned fruit. We think this is a positive (ever peeled an orange and felt like there wasn’t actually much left by the time you got the skin off?) However, it’s true that this softer, thinner skin can sometimes be a little harder to remove.

              • California citrus is more acidic, while Florida citrus is sweeter.
                Once again, climate is the key. The lower temperatures in California groves pump up acidity levels in their fruit, while the milder, more tropical weather in Florida means our fruit is sweeter. This is why Florida doesn’t grow lemons (they just wouldn’t be tangy enough), while California doesn’t grow grapefruit (too much pucker!) It also means that certain other sweet varieties grow better in one state than the other. Tangelos and Honeybells, for instance, are delicious when grown in Florida, but aren’t well suited to the California climate.

                So, should you choose Florida or California citrus? That depends on what you want. If a thick-skinned, bright orange fruit with less juice and more acid appeals to you, go for California citrus. But if juicy sweetness is what really matters, we suggest you “pick” Florida citrus for yourself and your friends and family. We think you’ll be pleased.

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