It’s citrus time in Orange County
Being a native to Little Cypress, many know about John Heard and his citrus orchard.
“I’ve had the Washington Navel [oranges] in the ground since 1985, the satsumas and the grapefruit since about 1991-92,” Heard said. “The Washington Navel’s are my oldest trees.”
It is said that the oranges and grapefruit grown in Orange County are the best tasting fruit around and will beat out any of the citrus fruit sold at the grocery stores. “One thing that I contribute that to is that I can pick my fruit on a Friday and they can eat it on a Saturday,” he said. “I can leave that fruit on there without having to ship it to market and give it a shelf life.
That fruit can stay on the tree until it is absolutely mature, then it’s picked and you can eat within a day or two.”
When grocery stores order fruit from outside of the area, that fruit has to picked before it is ripe so that it will be ready to eat when it is put on the shelf. “The minute you pick that orange, everything shuts down, it stops,” Heard said. “If it’s mature then, it’s good. If it’s not mature, it’s not going to have a good flavor to it. It’s not going to be as sweet.”
“Every now and again, we’ll come off with some unsweet fruit. I won’t call it sour, but it’s not to your liking,” he said. “I think it’s according to the weather conditions. We’ve got a good climate here. We don’t have to worry about the cold weather a whole lot. I’ve have brought [my] stuff out in the field through nine degrees. I didn’t lose anything but two lemon trees.”
If the weather was severe, Heard would take bed sheets, drape them over the trees and pin them to the branches using clothes pins. Heard admitted that Orange County needs one good freeze because it tends to make the fruit a little sweeter.
“Once they are mature, it’s got to be awful, severe cold to do any damage,” he said. “That’s one of our pluses for getting good fruit here in Orange.” Also, the soil in Orange County also proves great for growing conditions because of the good acid levels in it.
The growing of oranges and grapefruit is a year around job for Heard. “We do our maintaining and [preparations] during the spring and summer,” he said. “It’s a fall/winter crop. I generally start selling satsumas in mid-September and the navel oranges come in late-October, early-November. The grapefruit will come in mid-November and I’ve sold grapefruit plum in to February.”
Heard does the feeding and grooming of the citrus orchard during the bulk of the year.
A gentleman named Buddy Childress was trying to get the citrus industry to blossom in Orange County and Heard decided to help. “We had a nursery right out here and we ran it for ten years. My help (his wife) couldn’t take the heat and the sun. We shut it down. I don’t do any grafting or selling of the trees anymore. I just do my fruit.”
His satsuma oranges sell for two dozen for $5, grapefruit sell for 3 for $1, navel oranges sell for 3 for $1.
“It’s competitive, if not better than our markets. I don’t try to run anybody down,” he said. “My biggest market is individuals and word of mouth. It’s the market we’ve established over the years.”
Heard usually sells through the Farmer’s Market, but it is now shut down until May. He’ll be selling his fruit out of his house now, but that won’t slow him down.
“I was brought growing rice and raising cattle,” he said. “I guess I try to keep that dirt under my fingernails. I spent between 25 and 30 years in the rice field with the family. I just like to grow stuff.”
If anyone is interested in purchasing some fruit from John Heard, please call 409-988-5231.