In the Garden:
Low-growing citrus branches allow easy harvest and shade the trunk.
Citrus Harvest Prime Time
Citrus trees are loaded with fruit now, much of it ripe and ready for the picking. The green, glossy foliage really highlights the beauty of the orange and yellow globes of fruit, adding cheerful splashes of color to the landscape.
Citrus fruit sweetens the longer it stays on the tree (within its season, of course), so perform a few taste tests before harvesting a bushel basket full of fruit. A variety may taste okay, but left to sweeten up on the tree another week or two, it may become outstanding.
At a recent taste-testing, I sampled a 'Kinnow' mandarin that had the same marginal flavor of most supermarket citrus. A 'Kinnow' that had been picked later was considerably sweeter. 'Kinnow' bears fruit later than 'Algerian' (also known as 'Clementine'), which comes into season as early as November. Experiment a little, and jot down a few notes of what tested best and when. Conditions vary from year to year, but your notes will help guide you in future harvests.
Navel, Arizona sweets, and blood oranges are typically sweet and juicy right now. My new favorite is 'Cara Cara' navel, which is a sweet, firm, seedless variety. Its flesh has a rosy blush, although it's not actually a blood orange.
'Sanguinelli' is a blood orange with a deep burgundy color to its flesh and a reddish cast to the rind (when weather conditions are right). Take advantage of its color and toss it in salads or squeeze some for juice.
When you're in the mood to prune your citrus tree, remember that it's easier to harvest fruit that is low to the ground. Leave those low branches in place. In addition to ease of harvest, low branches also shade the trunk from sunburn, which can actually kill a tree in the low desert. Note that citrus growers don't prune their orchards. All that needs to be removed are dead, diseased, or damaged limbs.
Please don't let fruit go to waste. If your trees are producing a banner crop and you can't use it all, share it with those less fortunate. Organize a Harvest Party with friends and neighbors, and donate the proceeds to a local food bank. It's a positive start to the new year!
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