Midwinter is a wonderful time for oranges and other citrus in the Waikato. There are trees laden with beautiful oranges, mandarins, tangelos and clementines in home gardens all over the place. We’ve been collecting clementines from a couple of neighbours who mostly leave the fruit to rot in piles under the trees. I guess people are so used to easy-peel, seedless mandarins, that they won’t bother with a freshly-picked clementine.
You do need to use your fingernails to peel a clementine, but the flavour and aroma is exquisite. And it’s free! (But, see later in this post for what I’ve learned about peeling clementines.)
Beautiful oranges ripening on the tree. Photo by Dani Edwards.
Where to buy local citrus?
Even though it seems as though it’s easy to grow oranges in the Waikato, our local climate is not ideal for growing fully ripened sweet oranges. The warmer climates in the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay are much better for commercial growers. But mandarins are a different story - being smaller, they don’t need as many sunlight hours to fully ripen. And there are also gardeners and growers producing beautiful oranges in sunny microclimates in this region.
There's also plenty of grapefruit around this season - here's a link to my grapefruit post.
There’s no citrus for sale currently at Hamilton Farmers' Market, apart from lemons and limes. David Whyte, who is on the Waikato Treecrops Association committee, is one Waikato citrus grower I know about. David and his wife Tiffany have a small citrus orchard north of Huntly. On a sunny 0.5 ha with approximately 300 trees, David produces premium citrus using organic and biological growing methods. He makes a point of not picking the fruit until it is fully ripe, and he sells everything he grows to Ooooby, which is easier for him than going to weekend markets.
Above: David Whyte (with beard) talking trees at a Treecrops Association field day. Some of his beautiful citrus can be seen in the background.
Annie and Sean from Miranda Orchards (which is almost in the Waikato) used to have a stall at Hamilton Farmers’ Market a couple of years ago, but I think they’re selling at Auckland markets now. I miss their gorgeous produce, which is all certified organic. They grow many different varieties of oranges and mandarins. Their farm shop is at 1107 Miranda Rd, off State Highway 2. www.mirandafarm.co.nz
Citrus all year
Oranges and mandarins are particularly appreciated in mid-winter, when there isn’t much other fruit in season. But I’ve learned that it’s possible to plant different varieties so you can eat citrus fresh off the tree all year round. Mandarins of the varieties “Miho” and “Silverhill” are the common kinds that fruit well in midwinter (June - August). “Encore” mandarins ripen in September.
Clementines are ripe in September-October. My neighbour’s tree had what seemed like deliciously ripe clementines in July this year, but my gardening friend Clare Jackson of Greenfootprint says clementines should be easy to peel when fully ripe, so these would have been better a couple of months later.
Tangelos are at their best in November and December. If you pick the fruit earlier than this, it won’t have the full, in-season sweetness. And, like clementines, fully ripe tangelos are easy to peel. When tangelos are ripe, the vivid orange colour starts fading to yellowish orange. The tangelo trees in my neighbourhood are pretty, but the fruit should stay on the trees for three more months.
Easy peel: Many kinds of citrus are easy to peel when left on the tree until fully ripe. This photo, and the one featured at the top of the page, by Elizabeth Newton-Jackson.
Leave fruit on the tree
Citrus keeps best when left on the tree. Don’t pick your crop all at once - just take what you need, and leave the rest. If a citrus tree is dropping large quantities of fruit on the ground, that may mean there’s something wrong with the tree. Or it might be that the tree is thinning out a large crop.