Working an Organic Citrus Grove

Tired of shivering through Tennessee winters, a young couple agree to become temporary caretakers of an organic citrus grove in Florida.

| September/October 1974

May 5, 1973 found us huddled by the glow of the Majik Automatic woodburner as the last frost of the season melted into our prematurely planted garden here in the hollows of Tennessee. At that moment we decided we enjoyed warmth too much to shiver through another rainy winter in our poorly insulated clapboard house.

Gradually things started to fall into place. We wrote the absentee owners of the Patron Angel Organic Citrus Grove, a 15-acre spread where we had purchased delicious fruit on previous Florida jaunts. After several weeks of waiting for a reply, we finally gave up our attachment to receiving one ... and at last got an answer. If we were willing to tend and work the grove organically, the letter said, we could live among the trees and share the income from the sale of produce!

That was a fine message to receive in the heat of summer, when anyone in his right mind would rather go swimming than cut ten cords of firewood and can numerous jars of tomatoes in preparation for the barren, cold winter months ahead. Even so—though our heads became more HERE and NOW in some respects as a result of our commitment—we sometimes found ourselves worrying a bit when we reflected that we knew nothing about citrus except for eating such fruit.

By late October we were ready to depart, with bicycles strapped to the front of our white van and dogs, cats, plants and us crammed inside. We crept out of the hollows on a wet, chilly morning that hung with us until a bright sun roused us from a roadside rest the next day. Spanish moss and sunshine—guarantees that your toes will soon thaw—are always cheerful landmarks as you approach the Florida State line.

On to the citrus grove, which we found overgrown and essentially untended since its sale a year and a half before our arrival. Because most of the fruit had not been picked the year before but had been left to drop and rot, the trees didn't have the quantity of new citrus we'd hoped for. Still, what was there was gratifying. We even found some Valencias hanging around from the previous season.

Once we had the grove mowed, we set about trying to build some sort of living structure which seemed compatible with our environment. We'd seen the Seminoles' "chickees" but thought the openness of such a dwelling might encourage too many rapacious mosquitoes. And we decided against a tipi—the previous caretakers' solution—because we thought it would be too confining.

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