Monday, November 4, 2013
If you live in North Florida and you'd like to grow citrus, your best bet is to plant a satsuma. A satsuma is a type of mandarin orange that's extremely cold tolerant and just plain tough. It's also very productive, offering copious amounts of luscious, tennis-ball-size fruit in fall.
Rob and I have four satsuma trees planted here and there around the house. They're all the Kimbrough variety, which is hardy to 16 degrees F.
On nights when temperatures threaten to dip into the 20s or below, we cover our tender young trees with old sheets. After three years you don't need to cover the whole tree anymore. You just have to wrap the graft.
Our oldest satsuma is almost five years old and quite beautiful now--dark and spreading and about 12 feet tall. It's covered in fruit this year (the other day we counted more than 200 golden orange orbs). The poor tree is so loaded that Rob had to make it some special bamboo "crutches" to help the limbs bear the weight.
Satsumas are really tasty, great for eating straight off the tree. The thick, loose skin is sometimes referred to as a "zipper skin" because it opens so effortlessly. The fruit is mild, sweet, juicy, and not at all messy to eat since it's divided into tidy, bite-sized segments that are easy to pull apart.
On Sunday we sampled our first satsumas of the season. We only picked two (one for each of us) since we felt we were probably jumping the gun a little bit. (Another week or two and they'll really be ripe.) Picking them was a big ritual and celebration, accompanied by great fanfare, and eating them was kind of like doing a wine tasting; lots of appreciating was involved, and enthusiastic attempts were made at describing the delicious but elusive flavor.
"Mine's really bright and sweet," I said. "And there's a little hint of honey!"