In just a few days, the early November rainstorms have changed the environment here on the farm completely. The air is chilly, crisp and damp and the bright sun feels good on your face. The soil is soft and moist instead of hard and dusty.
If I had to pick one item we grow that personifies (produc-ifies?) this wonderful time of year, it would be Satsuma Mandarins. When you pierce the rind with your fingers, they emit a zesty spray that evinces the feeling of being outside on the morning after a fall storm has passed through.
Lo and behold, Mandarin season begins this week. We started harvest last week following the rain on Wednesday and in advance of the bigger storm. Citrus can’t be picked in the rain for a dozen reasons, and yet its season overlaps California’s wet season almost exactly. So for 5 months, we do a dance with the weather: racing to harvest as much as possible between the storms and hoping what we harvest will last us until the next dry spell.
If you’ve ever had citrus in a tropical country, you already know that the sweetness of the fruit has nothing to do with the color of the rind. Warm and hot temperatures create the sugar that makes citrus sweet; but it takes cold temperatures to turn their peel orange.
Traditionally citrus is picked when the sugar or “brix” reaches a certain threshold. If the rind is still green, ethylene gas and cold storage is used to turn it orange. Organic growers are not allowed to use ethylene. This leaves us in the position some years of waiting for the weather to get cold before we can harvest. We’ve had a few Novembers recently where we didn’t harvest the first mandarins until just befor Thanksgiving.
This year the weather cooperated nicely. We had our first freezing temperatures a week ago, which started the process of coloring the mandarins up. That said, we did not wait for 100% color, and you will see some green spots on the fruit in your boxes.
Our other “fall ripening” citrus fruit is Meyer Lemons. But while we have a very good crop of Satsumas this year, the Meyers were impacted by a freeze during their bloom and we have a very light crop. You will only see them once or twice in your boxes this year.
Mandarin season at Terra Firma goes through mid-January and sometimes into February, depending on the weather. At that point we will start harvest of our Navel Oranges, whose season goes until late March.