Among the first fruit trees I purchased was a smallish tree, less than four feet tall, with wide dark green leaves. I bought it at a local nursery and was told simply “it's a satsuma (orange-like) that, in the few years we've had it, didn't produce any flowers or fruit.” I was also told that it was self fertilizing and that it would survive in a big pot on the porch. (I live in USDA Zone 7b, meaning not a lot of citrus are supposed to live outside all winter here.) In late February, early March, I brought this little tree home and stuck it in the tiny lean-to “greenhouse” I had built from discarded pallets and corrugated clear plastic panels.
As daytime temperatures warmed, I brought Sally and friends out into the direct sunlight all day. As I later learned, this is not a good idea for some plants who will revolt by having their leaves turn brown and shrivel somewhat as they adjust to the instant access to the sun. Sally did great, however, and even started to sprout a ton of fantastic white blossoms all over her foliage! And if you've never smelled citrus blossoms in person, you are missing a true aromatic treat! Eventually, the wind was strong enough there to blow leaves off of some other plants. Sally's blooms, however, stayed in tact! A couple of moves around the land to find that perfect potted tree place, and Sally had developed little green baby fruits where her blossoms once grew - 13 baby fruits in all!
Being on a once-abandoned property that is surrounded by other abandoned properties means that nature has forgotten to forage here. However, as time has passed, some critters have discovered us and the edibles we are growing. By late summer, I had become overrun by what are either grasshoppers or locusts. (Internet friends are great when you want to be confused about things you didn't used to question.) Regardless of the name, the pest is the same – these things LOVE my food as much as I have enjoyed growing it. They aren't munching on the baby fruits but rather feast on the leaves. Sally has started to look as I imagine a tree's leaves look if you ask a small child to draw her interpretation of tree leaves. For now, Sally and friends are squeezed into a sad construction meant to deter the bugs, with only small gains; we attached 8-foot clear plastic corrugated siding panels onto the sides of an old metal gazebo frame with no roof.
The next step is learning when to eat Sally's fruit. They look like smallish roundish oranges, slightly squished on the top and bottom so that they are no longer perfectly round. It has been many months since the fruit babies first appeared, and here I am in mid October, wondering if the fruit will ever ripen to orange. Turning to the internet, I learned that the word “satsuma” has been applied to many things, from a type of pottery to a city in Florida. Narrowing the search, satsuma fruit trees are also named “citrus unshiu” or “satsuma mandarin”. They likely arrived in the U.S. in the 1870's from Japan but were mentioned in Japan as many as six centuries prior to that. Without knowing exactly which variety of satsuma Sally is, anything more is really a guess. She could grow to 6-8 feet tall in a pot, or she could grow more than 12 feet tall in the ground. She could survive winter in the mid-20's and may even survive outside here in Zone 7b if she's wrapped up for winter. Or she may die at the mere thought of a chill. (I went back and bought their only other satsuma tree, Samantha, who decided to drop all of her leaves on our first mild day all year. Stay tuned for a later blog entry on what I think happened to her.) This part will just be a work-in-progress experience. But WHEN CAN I EAT ONE??
Again, the internet is full of inconsistent assistance. A few sources said that, especially in humid areas such as mine, the fruit may never turn orange, so try to eat a fruit in late August. If it's not ripe, try again in mid-September. I found the biggest baby fruit, apologized to Sally for stealing her baby, and brought it inside the house to eat. The skin is super easy to peel, and to my surprise, there are NO SEEDS! (If you can't tell, I had never eaten a satsuma before.) It was super juicy and pretty tart. In sharing my experience with some friends, one pointed out that he thought satsumas are super sweet. So, I got back on the interwebs and read sources that say not to bother picking until October. *sigh*
After writing all of the above, I set it aside a bit for an experiment. Some fruits like to finish ripening on a shelf (or in the back of a truck, which is how the produce industry has survived), so I took another of Sally's babies and left it on my desk for three weeks. As you can see from the photo, the peeling thinned out quite a bit. It was also harder to peel by hand, but a fresh satsuma peel practically peels itself once you get it started. (Ignore that the newer fruit is more ovalish. Home grown will never be entirely consistent.) The juice and flesh tasted about the same on them both, and the color really only hinted at a shade of maybe brown under the green on the older one. All in all, an exciting fruit to grow!
Ann B. operates Poison Ivy Soap Company, the business founded 24 years ago by her parents as a hobby. The company focuses on creating holistic products to help ease life's discomforts. Ann is building an Arkansas homestead from the ground up. Follow the company on Facebook and Instagram, and follow Ann on Facebook. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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