I live next door to a privately owned orange grove. The owner put a barbed wire fence up a couple years ago to keep ATV's and other trespassers out. I found the owners name and called him. I explained who I was and that because his fence bordered my property, I would like permission to go on the property to keep the fence line clean. I would also like permission to pick up ground fruit. I promised I would not pick from the trees, only fallen fruit. He agreed, and said, “That’s fine.”
So a few days ago, because the weather has been so warm, the trees where ready for picking a few months early. So today I looked across the fence line and I saw the tangerine tree.
Orange trees are grafted onto other citrus trees. If you plant a seed, you will get a rouge tree, which has thorns on it and the fruit may be bitter. So the graft on this one tree was a tangerine, and the tangerine lives on one side and the orange tree on the other but it all comes from the same root. cool huh?
Anyways last year I spotted this same tangerine tree but it was May. The fruit was left and it dried up and was no good. This year, I knew that the guys had picked all the oranges and they didn't want or need the tangerines.
So I grabbed my bucket
I put on my socks and shoes
I took the dogs with me
opened up the fence
and got to the first tree near my fence line, fruit left all over the ground.
Some of it was still good. I tossed them over to my yard. THEN, I heard the MACHINE.
I don't know if they use this machine in other orchards, but this machine has spinning giant blades that rotate and it trims the tops and sides of the orange trees as the tractor runs up and down the rows. I knew I had to hustle outta there. I called the dogs and ran like crazy.
I picked up the fruit in my yard and filled a big ice chest full of water anddumped them in to remove dirt, bugs and mold. I watched the machine go up and down the rows, keeping an eye out for my tangerines, which were not in any danger... hee hee (my tangerines)
My thoughts were, "I need help". I called my dad. He was just finished up at the doctors and just about headed home. I said, “ Come over here instead, I have a project for you and I and it involves being a bit sneaky.” Dad was on the doorstep within 20 mins.
Dad asked me, "Will I need shorts for this mission?”
“Yes, probably because it’s warm out today”, I answered.
I reminded him of the tangerine tree. I reminded him that we, he and I, had discovered it late May of last year. I said, “dad, the fruit is on the top of the tree. We will need to bring a rake to pull them down. I also have been gathering the forgotten fruit on the ground. The workers have already picked the fruit and gathered what they brought to market but they have left a lot of fruit on the ground this year for some reason.”
Dad says, “I am game, let’s go.” I didn't hear the machine, so I didn't bother saying anything to him. He called the dogs to go with us. We had a small black bucket and an easy walk. I said, “We may be doing this for nothing because the tree may be rouge and the fruit can be bitter, or we can luck out and the fruit may be sweet; either way it was left to die and I want to see.”
We reached the tree with our bucket, dogs and rake. The tree was teaming with the brightest tiny little tangerines which looked good. Dad reached up and pulled down a few. I said, “wait, let’s check the fruit first.” I picked one up, the peel fell away like paper and the fruit was succulent, full of seeds, tiny, but very sweet. “YEAH, Let’s gather up some more dad, its good.”
I picked up the oranges on the ground under the tree. This is no easy task. The trees branches are very low to the ground. I was on hands and knees crawling in sand, hunched over trying to gather fruit, toss it out to dad. Dad is pulling down the fruit and they are plopping him in the head. My dogs are sniffing around, enjoying the very warm sun. Our little bucket was full. I am suddenly aware of the machine about three rows over and getting louder.
“Dad, we gotta get out of here, that machine will chop off all our appendages and leave us for dead.” Dad grabbed the rake, I called the dogs and picked up the bucket and for the second time that day, I was running for my fence line.
We got back to the back porch and put the oranges in the cool water and placed all the tangerines on the table. I went inside, got a bowl to use as a garbage can, and dad and I feasted on fresh tangerines for the next half hour, discussing our next strategy for getting the rest of those tangerines, avoiding the machine and leaving the dogs at home.
As we ate we listened to the giant spinning blades whacking through the branches and trimming up the trees for the new blossoms and fruit for next year. We looked down and had eaten every one of the tangerines. We had to go back now. The machine had moved down to the end of the orchard and wouldn't be back on this side for about 20 mins.
Dad said, “We need more buckets.” I answered, “Why not just take a few grocery bags in your back pocket?” He shoved about four in his pocket, grabbed the rake again and I had my sun hat on.
Now you might be wondering why we needed to be sneaky. Well remember I did have permission TWO years ago from the owner. But if you know anything about a business - The owner doesn't work, he hires others to work for him. I figured that when you’re running an orchard, you are not going to remember to tell your foreman that some lady may or may not be in the west side of the field gathering fruit. And I did tell the man I wasn't going to PICK the oranges. Well these are not oranges, and they did leave them behind last year and this year, so I wasn't taking fruit that would be sold, I was gleaning the field. But if I was seen by the guy in the tractor, I would be looked upon as stealing, and I knew he had a cell phone. I just didn't want to have the possible scene of trying to explain what looked very much like stealing. Back to the story.
Dad was like a dog on a scent now. He was going to get his fruit. He had a plan. He is 75, and younger than me at times. He reached up and plucked fruit as quickly as possible. I gathered fruit and tried not to get hit with falling fruit as I gathered. I was thinking about trying my hand at making my first batch of orange marmalade. Never cared for it myself, but it would make good gifts. Free fruit, why not try it.
I wandered over to the next tree and found a lot of oranges on the ground under the tree. I stepped in an ant hill and didn't notice it until they were chopping on my ankles. Good thing I wore socks and shoes. I was figuring out why the workers had left the fruit under the trees. They were too big to get under here and make it worth their wiles to gather a few more oranges when they had giant bags attached to their backs and strapped on more than 100 pounds of oranges when the bag was full. There was no bending over.
I wish I could tell you that this particular orchard owner allowed a church or club to come in and glean the fields. Sadly, every year I watch tons of fruit rot on the ground. They are good sweet Valencia juice oranges. They are not pretty on the outside but they are perfect on the inside. Back to the story...
I look over and dad has three bags of fruit full and the black bucket -full. I have two bags and the rake. We are carrying our load home. We hear the machine. We are safe; we are just steps from my yard. But the compulsion to pick up one more orange that looks so good is so great. Both of us are loaded down. But what do we do, stop and continue to pick up one more orange, or check an orange to see if it’s rotten or good.
I have two ice chests full of good oranges. (We gathered fruit from less than 10 trees in an orchard of 1000's of trees) I have a bag full of small but sweet tangerines. It's been a great full fun day.
We avoided the machine and it hacking saws as it clawed through the branches. We sat down and started planning again. In a couple of days dad will bring over his fruit picker with an extended handle to get the rest of the tangerines at the very tippy top of the tree. hee hee. It’s always an adventure in wild central Florida.