One of my favorite times of year is winter, because that’s when the tangerines ripen, and I sell them at the local market.
I am planting out a number of different types of fruits in my grove, but for now the only type of fruit which the grove produces in large enough quantities to sell is tangerines.
The variety is ‘Sunburst’, which is distinctive in having excellent flavor, seeded fruits, and an intensely deep orange-colored rind which adheres just tightly enough to the fruit to make it a bit of effort to peel the fruits. (I often cut them into wedges to eat them.)
Another characteristic of ‘Sunburst’, at least growing at my place in North Florida, is that the fruits can stay on the tree in excellent condition for over two months. They start getting sweet in early December, and if left on the tree can be harvested any time until around the middle of February, when they start to dry out and drop off the tree. Having such a long potential harvest period gives me a lot of flexibility of when I pick the fruits.
Some growers of of this variety harvest their entire crop as soon as it gets sweet in December, to sell it wholesale. There are some advantages to this method: usually this gets the fruit off the tree and sold before there is danger of severe freezing weather damaging the crop during January and February, and trees that have had their fruit removed supposedly go into a deeper dormant period during winter, making the tree itself more resistant to any extreme cold episodes that might strike.
But I sell my fruits retail, direct to consumer at the local farmers market. Selling them that way allows me to get a higher price than if I were selling wholesale, and also allows me to take full advantage of the long potential harvest season for ‘Sunburst’ tangerines. During years with a good crop, I can start harvesting and selling fruits at market in early to mid December, and keep up every week till the crop gives out in Febrary. This enables me to build relationships with customers, many of whom come by the booth every week during harvest season to get their weekly tangerine supply.
Harvesting over an extended period like I do in some ways is also a little bit of a gamble: if an extreme cold episode strikes during January or February, with temperatures dipping cold enough to damage citrus fruits, I could lose whatever tangerines are still hanging on the trees at that point. That has happened to me before, but it’s been infrequent enough that I’m willing to take the risk.
Another advantage of selling direct to consumer at market, is that I can focus harvesting for best taste, rather than for shipping and shelf life.
Some of my tangerine trees are in full sun, and some are partly shaded. I’ve found that the fruit on trees in full sun gets sweet first, while fruit on trees in more shaded locations takes a few weeks longer to reach an equivalent sweetness. It even seems that fruits on the sunniest parts of any tree, the top and outsides of the tree, get sweet before fruits on the bottom and interior parts of the same tree. So when I do my weekly harvest, I do a lot of fruit-tasting to make sure I’m picking from areas of the grove where fruits have reached their sweetest.
Because these tangerines store so well on the tree, I can adjust the amount I pick, based on how busy I’m expecting that week’s market to be.
I really enjoy selling fruit at the farmers market. I keep a plate of tangerine slices out for people to sample. Once someone tries a slice of these tangerines, a good variety harvested once it’s at peak sweetness (not earlier), harvested from the tree within hours of being eaten, they usually decide to buy some.
The market where I’m selling is the downtown Gainesville farmers market, on Wednesdays from 4-7pm (although sometimes I sell out of fruit early). I should be there through January, and likely some of February. If you’re in the area, stop by and get some tangerines.