Tuesday, January 3, 2023

A Chilly New Year Brings Sweet New Citrus!

Brrrrr...even here in Florida, folks felt the effects of winter storm Elliott right down to our rarely-worn socks. Baby, it was COLD outside!  Sometimes, hard freezes can be tricky business for growers, as citrus in general is a warm weather fruit family that thrives when temperatures linger between sixty and ninety degrees Fahrenheit.  There are some exceptions: satsuma mandarins and kumquats do just fine down in the fifteen degree range, and some varieties of grapefruits can withstand longer freeze periods. As a general rule, however, any citrus can be damaged if exposed to hard freeze conditions for more than four hours. Fortunately, our growers are well-versed in caring for trees during these occasional cold blasts, and since citrus actually tastes better when exposed to non-extreme cold temperatures, the fruits coming out this winter post winter storm Elliott are exceptionally sweet and delicious!

Cold Weather Is Sweet for Oranges

Generally speaking, there are two types of citrus: sweet and acid. Here at Florida Fruit Shippers, we specialize in the sweet types: oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines/mandarins. Florida is an ideal climate for sweet citrus fruits because we get just enough cold weather to sweeten the sweet fruits even more, but not enough to damage them. Cold weather can be a positive or negative stressor to many types of fruits. When they are stressed a little bit by the chill, it acts as a "positive stressor," breaking down the cells just slightly so that more sugar is produced as a stress response. Only when the temperature plummets below freezing for an extended period does it become a "negative stressor," permanently damaging the fruit and even the whole tree. Fortunately our growers are well versed in hard freeze care, and one bite into our Honeybells coming out right now for their short season will prove that the results are truly delicious!

How Do Growers Protect the Fruit?

Citrus growers are aware that a cold snap can either make or break the fruit harvest, depending on just how cold it gets and for how long.  With the extreme conditions of winter storm Elliott spanning several days, while the rest of us were warming up hot chocolate and cueing up movies, they worked hard for several sleepless nights, putting their freeze-savvy techniques into action. Here are some of the things that farmers can do so they could chill out about the chill instead of get frosted about it:

  • More Ice Please: Even though it may seem counterintuitive, one of the most ingenious ways to offset subfreezing temperatures is simply to keep the plants from freezing--by freezing them! When a hard freeze is forecast, farmers irrigate the trees with water. As the temperature plummets, this water freezes but also releases heat into the environment. This heat is often just enough to prevent the actual fruit from totally freezing, so it can get busy generating cold-response sugars for our benefit!
  • Decorate for the Holidays: Wrapping trees in incandescent Christmas tree lights can offer well-balanced warmth throughout the leaves and branches, and will not damage the tree due to their low heat level. If trees are to be covered, lights can be strung and plugged in first.
  • Create a Cover-Up: Trees can be staked so the plastic frames can be constructed around them. Alternatively, trees can be wrapped in burlap, blankets, or other frost-resistant cloth.

The Health Benefits of Cold-Sweetened Fruits

We often hear that sugar is bad for us. While that's the case for refined sucrose, which can cause blood glycemic levels to skyrocket, sugars from whole foods are another story completely: those cold-sweetened citrus fruits are loaded with nutritional goodness, and their relative sugar content and glycemic index are still very low. Pair this with the incredible nutrition benefits of eating citrus during the more sedentary winter months, and you've got a win!  Consider:
  • *When temperatures are low and we become more housebound and sedentary as a result, the temptation to eat sugary, processed foods can become magnified. Super sweet citrus fruits are just as easy to eat, and take care of that sugar craving, without packing on extra pounds.
  • *Winter can also be a low energy time when folks tend to catch more colds than usual, both as a result of being inside more. The Vitamin C in citrus is revitalizing, energizing, and immune-boosting.
  • *The fiber, Vitamin C, and flavonoids in citrus fruits are an excellent aid to weight management and loss. Add to that that they pack a lot of flavor, nutrients and satisfaction into way less calories compared to a cupcake or other processed snack of comparable size.
Just as cold weather can bring out the warmth in our hearts, so can it bring out the sweetness in our fruits. So bring on the cold...our Honeybells (and other delicious January citrus fruits) are cool with it!


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