Florida experiences many environmental close calls, during the crucial months between late autumn and early spring, when the blossoms for the following year and the fruit for the current year appear. Occasionally, there are years of frozen devastation. In 1989, for example, the cold weather virtually destroyed all citrus crops. Since then, growers have developed unique systems to protect their crops. The day of the smudge pots are over, thank heaven. Today, to keep the groves warm, growers can actually heat the air with water. The water table is high and easily accessible through artesian wells with a temperature of about 60 to 70 degrees. By spraying this warm water throughout the groves through tiny micro-jets, the air temperature can be raised between five and twelve degrees which is enough to keep blossoms, fruit, and branches safe from freezing. Sometimes, growers will spray the crop before Mother Nature does. A micro-thin coating of ice can act as insulation (because warmer air is trapped) and prevents ice crystals from forming inside the tree or fruit.
Hydrometers are used by citrus growers to determine the sweetness of the crops (as they ripen). The sugar content of a product can be measured by testing the specific gravity of its fluid. The liquid to be tested is placed in a long, narrow, tube-like cup, and the hydrometer is added to the liquid. The device is read somewhat like a thermometer. By noting how low in the cup the hydrometer floats, the grower can determine the specific gravity of the fluid. The operator then can tell whether the fluid has the desired concentration of sugar, and the grower can use this information to decide the optimum moment to harvest the crop.
Even though various varieties of citrus found their way to Florida (usually via the Caribbean islands) by the early 17th century, they were grown for local consumption only. (These early citrus were, by all accounts, ugly and sour–not appealing to us today.) There was, of course, no way to transport them quickly enough to prevent spoilage. However, by the 19th century, growers turned their attention to the advent of rail and refrigerated transportation. Now, citrus crops travel quickly through the world by air, rail, truck, and by sea. The problem now is that large operations find it most economical to make one huge harvest sweep through the groves (and in the process pick fruits that have not completely ripened.) Once harvested, citrus ripens no more. Unfortunately, often the products go through cosmetic “beautification.” But if you have been to Europe lately, you may have seen people in the market sniffing and pinching the fruit. They have developed a “nose” and a “feel” for the fruit, and are not deceived by a pretty presentation.
Small-scale grove growers wield the hydrometer regularly. Making several trips to the same tree as the fruit ripens. This is the only sure way to know when to pick and when to ship! We have worked with the same growers for a long time, and can assure you that they take excellent care of your Murcott Tangerines!
We all know that citrus is good food–high in Vitamin C, low in fat and cholesterol. Rumor has it that the citrus may even protect us from heart attacks.
Grove-ripened, hand-picked (only when they are in perfect condition), Honey Tangerines are going to make the dark winter days seem a lot brighter!