I first bought the tree in the spring, right before i came down with covid. They were closing all the businesses down and they had given us a date by which all the non-essential businesses would have to shut their doors. I was working and didn’t often have the opportunity to go to the store on a weekday. That day i made a point of getting in to work early and finishing up with enough time to go to the plant nursery for one last run before the decree went into effect. I had already been once before and gotten a couple fruit trees but this time i was determined to fit as many fruit and nut trees in my suv as i could before the plant nursery closed. I put down all the seats and laid them on their sides, cramming them in there and trying to drive slow all the way home on those winding country roads. Everyone had the same idea i did. The nursery was packed full of panicking people buying up everything in sight. I quickly put one of the last citrus trees on display in my wagon. At that time the grocery was empty if you didn’t wait in line for it to open and rush in at 8 am. I was already working by that time and so i never had an opportunity to get the food before others cleared the shelves. By the time i went after work everything was pretty much gone and i’m not exaggerating. My mother suggested the imperfect foods service where they fedex food to your door weekly and that along with eating insects and wild onions saved me for most of 2020, as i couldnt stand in line at 8 am and wasnt often appreciated in my scrubs because everyone was afraid of me. When i bought the orange tree i was hungry and all the stores were out of vitamin c. I didn’t know how much the tree would mean to me until later when i came down with covid and couldn’t find the vitamin c i needed to get well. I had ordered some but it was on back order. The stores were cleaned out and no-one was sharing from their stash, because then they would have to admit they were part of the problem…one of those that was hoarding 40 bottles of it in the garage just in case. I ended up eating 10 of those little cutie oranges at a time in order to get the dose i was looking for. I couldnt get my hands on vitamin c so i was eating food with vitamin c in it. The cuties went fast so i had to rely on friends to get to the store early and drop the oranges in a bag on the barbed wire fence before driving away from my property and texting me that they were there. Eventually i realized nobody knew the dollar general carried vitamins and i cleaned them out of their 1000 mg vitamin c, which i then consumed in an effort to get well. All the while these tiny green orbs were growing on the potted satsuma i had purchased and placed in the yard. If every other tree died and only one survived the winter, i prayed, Lord, let it be that tree. Let the one that survives be the satsuma because oranges had come to mean something more than just fruit to me. Oranges were the answer. Oranges were life. Oranges meant being able to breathe. Several people have brought it up to me over the past few months “that’s not an orange tree. That’s a satsuma.” I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. It didnt make any difference to me. They were round, in the category of fruits, and tinted orange. It seemed like they’d be good, whatever they were. I now know they are considered a “mandarin” which is different than an orange in that they are smaller and easier to peel. Works for me. The reason i love the thing is that it protects itself from predators. It has two inch thorns all over it and they are mighty sharp. I dont have to fend off hoards of critters and insects that would like to eat it. It battles those itself. Gotta love a tree with a built-in defense system.
Anyways, as i said before, the little satsumas started out as green orbs hanging from the tree. Eventually they began to turn orange and my excitement mounted until they were a perfect rich halloween color and i decided to pick one and see if it was any good. Pretty as it was, it was not good. It was sour. Oh so sour! I had not waited long enough. I would need to be more patient with the other 13. When i picked that first fruit the insides were firm and held their shape when pulled apart. The peel was thick and easy to pull off in huge chunks. I had been taught what a ripe orange was by the grocery store. I’d never had one off the tree and i wasn’t exactly sure how to gage when they were edible. I knew from growing strawberries and watermelons that i had to limit my water to the plant while the fruits grew in order to concentrate the sugars or the fruit would turn out watery and flavorless. I limited the water the plant got; just enough to keep it alive, and the oranges continued to hang there.
A couple weeks later i tried again. It was well into the winter temps now, probably the last day or two of november, and the tree was now living in the shed in an attempt to keep the fruits from freezing during the nights. Again i pulled one of the little orange orbs off of the thorny branches. There was some sweetness, but still a considerable amount of sour. Now i had 12 of the little orange fruits left. I would have to wait or i would waste them all looking for something i couldn’t be patient enough to obtain.
December 15; It was around 8 pm. I had gone to the shed to get a bag of tea and the little orange orbs caught my eye in the light of the lantern. I felt around until i found the one with the most give when squeezed. I picked it. I stood there in the dark and ate it. My mind was blown. At first i thought i had waited too long. Its little pieces were soft and floppy. I figured it had rotted. The juice escaped the divisions and ran down my fingers. I hurried to catch it with my pajama pants clad leg lest the ants and bees find my mess and invade the shed in numbers. When i popped that first piece into my mouth everything stopped and i realized i had been wrong. It had not rotted. It had ripened. This floppy fruit dripping with sticky juice was what a ripe mandarin looked like. I popped another and another into my mouth and each time i bit down an explosion of cold sugary liquid was obtained. I had spent so much time thinking i was botching this orange growing project here that the fact that i had achieved the goal did not and could not register. I picked up the tea bag and returned to the house.
The next morning around 9 am i returned to the shed to pick the remainder of the mandarins with give. The others should be left to ripen more but three of them were ready to go, so i picked them.
I brought them back to the house. I had hoped to save two in the refrigerator to eat throughout the week but as soon as i peeled that first one and put the pieces into my mouth, i realized the others weren’t going to make it past the hour. Since it had been 33 degrees outside and the tree had been in the shed, the juice in them was ice cold and delicious. The peel was thinner and came apart in smaller slivers. The pieces leaked juice and stuck together, bending over when pulled apart. I hoped to put the tree in the ground when the weather was warmer and i was feeling up to it. I wanted this to happen again. I wanted to be eating satsumas again in years to come. This was a good tree. This was a tree i wanted to keep.