The Giant Orange Harvest

Last weekend, I volunteered for Village Harvest again. This time we harvested oranges from a massive orchard in downtown San Jose. It’s a commercial orchard that, I believe, has been owned by the same family for forever. It’s a vestige of the orchards that populated this area before the tech boom.

I was told that we’re harvesting from this orchard because they are not able to sell their oranges “because of a virus.” Apparently, there is an orange tree “virus” that has infected many of the trees in Florida, and has now been identified Southern California. In order to contain the virus, this orchard cannot sell its oranges where they normally would….or something like that. I’m not too clear on the story, and I didn’t ask questions.

(Side note: There were fig trees interspersed with the orange trees.

They were the largest fig trees I have ever seen. Quite beautiful.)

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of oranges to be picked.

We didn’t use ladders or pickers for this harvest; we just picked the fruit we could reach with out hands from the ground. There was plenty of it! Also, these oranges were so ripe, they came off the tree very easily. This harvest was the exact definition of low-hanging fruit.

We collected 18,000 lbs of oranges, and we only covered a fraction of the orchard.

We, of course, got to take home “seconds.” I filled three big bags with oranges.

I turned some of them into marmalade.

I followed roughly the same recipe as last time, but I didn’t bother to measure things out. I think my last batch of marmalade was better. I still have tons of oranges left, so I can always try again. Does anyone have any other orange recipes??

I also looked into this “virus” that’s been infecting orange trees…. stay tuned for more on that later….

The Garden In December: Citrus and Greens

As this is the last week of 2020, I thought I would do one last look of the current state of the garden. Citrus and greens is the theme.

In the main in-ground garden space, the only things still growing are mustard greens and kale. They’re looking okay…the mustard greens are doing better than the kale. I can cut a few leaves to add to a bowl of soup, but it’s not a lot. I hope they’ll put on some more growth once we get more daylight.

As you saw on Sunday, though, we have some citrus ripening.

The navel orange tree…

…some kumquats….

….and the blood orange tree!

The blood orange tree, while not quite ripe yet, is loaded with fruit. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the garden is just underneath the blood orange tree, and as I was watering the garden this summer, I’m sure the blood orange was also getting a good drink this summer.

(Not pictured: limes and Meyer lemons, still producing.)

Besides the citrus trees, there’s not much to look at in the garden at this time, but I’m optimistic that by December 2021 I’ll have more to show you!

Homegrown Oranges and Orange Cake

I stayed here in Palo Alto for Christmas, and my housemates and I made as special Christmas dinner. I was in charge of the dessert, and I made an orange cake from The Moosewood Cookbook. The recipe required orange juice and orange zest. I hadn’t planned to make this cake until the morning of Christmas when most stores were closed.

Fortunately, we have a navel orange tree in our backyard!

The oranges are just about ripe, and I was able to find two ripe ones for the recipe.

One thing that amazes me about growing oranges is that they look just like the oranges you would get from the grocery store! Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but homegrown apples and pears are always smaller and have more blemishes than apples and pears in the grocery store, and I guess I expected the same types of defects with oranges.

On the flip side, the flavor of these oranges was fine, but nothing special — exactly like what you would get at the store, despite being freshly plucked off the tree.

Here’s the finished cake:

It was a very nice cake, but not as “orangey” as I was hoping…you really had to squint to taste the orange in it, and perhaps use a bit of imagination.

When are citrus “in season”?

I always thought citrus where in season in the winter. Apples are in season in the fall, berries in the spring and summer, and oranges in the winter, right? When I was a kid, my mom’s aunt and uncle, who lived in Florida sent us a box of grapefruit and oranges every Christmas.

Then I moved to California in July.

Meyer Lemon: July 2020

The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard was full of ripe lemons. Huh?

I’ve never lived in a place where citrus grew outdoors before, and I hadn’t really thought to consider why citrus’s peak season should be in the winter….or if that’s even true….maybe it’s all a marketing ploy to get people to buy oranges in the winter?

What I’ve observed in the few months I’ve lived here:

  1. The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard had ripe fruit when I arrived. We’ve picked a lot of the fruit, and there doesn’t seem to be new fruit growing. Unlike plum or cherry trees, which drop their fruit when ripe, the lemons stay on the tree for a very long time.
  2. The lime tree started with no fruit in July, produced flowers and then ripe fruit pretty quickly thereafter. The fruit was ready to pick in October.
  3. The navel and blood orange trees started with no fruit on them in July, and have since grown several oranges that are nearly ready to harvest – possibly ready to harvest in December.
  4. Most fruit on citrus trees in this area seem to be ripening now and will be ready to harvest in the coming weeks. However, in just about any month, I could usually find at least some sort of citrus (lemons, kumquats, etc) somewhere in Palo Alto.

According to google, it’s true that oranges tend to ripen in winter, but that doesn’t generalize that to all citrus. Each type of citrus – lemons, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, etc – has it’s own unique growing requirements, bloom time, ripening time. Some citrus can even produce fruit multiple times a year, or all year round.

Blood Orange: November 2020

Let’s take Meyer lemons: Different sources give slightly different information. One version says that they have two main bloom times – early spring and fall, and the fruit can take up to 6 months to ripen. Another take on the Meyer lemon is that Meyer lemons are really only available Dec-Feb. (I know this not to be true based on my experience this summer.) A third source said Meyer lemon trees can produce up to four crops per year. And lastly, another source says they can flower and produce fruit all year round. So, in summary, Meyer lemons may or may not have “a season.”

Eureka lemons, on the other hand (which I learned about back in March), are known to produce lemons all year round. This is one of the reasons most of the lemons you find in the store are Eureka lemons. Eureka lemons are, thus, always “in season.”

Similar to Meyer lemons, I see conflicting references for limes. Some sources say fall (August – December), while others say summer (May – October). I’m inclined to believe the first source (based on my limited experience).

Grapefruit and oranges, however, according to nearly all sources, have one main crop each year, which typically ripens in the winter-spring (December-ish to April-ish).

I found this chart from Friend’s Ranch that I think is helpful to visualize when different fruit is in season. It’s odd however, that, according to this chart, grapefruit is a summer fruit. Hmmm…. As my experience with Meyer lemons has taught me, take these dates with a grain of salt.

* indicates seedless fruit
Y indicates a great juicer
z indicates an excellent peel flavor, choice for zest

Whatever their true seasons are, I’m lucky I get to experience living in a place where citrus is grown locally and abundantly.