Satsuma farmer fights off freeze

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In 1965, David Royal planted 240 satsuma trees. He lost the entire grove in a freeze in 1989.

"It looked like a fire had been in here and burned the tree, it was that bad of a freeze," Royal said.

He had to replant. But now this time around, at his age, that's no longer an option. So he couldn't take any chances.

Royal is running a mist system he installed a few years ago to keep his trees from dying again.

"The mist system will save the graft of the tree, and you'll get a tree back quicker if you did lose the top of the tree," Royal said.

Royal retired in the 1980s and now relies on the fruit for his livelihood. As a result, he was up at 2 a.m. Tuesday checking the temperature and feeling the leaves.

"Walked through the grove and you could feel the warmth when you walked down through the trees that's real close together there," Royal said. "You could actually feel the difference. Then when you come out of that and right where we are at, you could feel the difference in the temperature, the chill factor."

Royal sells the satsumas right from his property off Orange Picker Road in Mandarin.

When a satsuma first comes on the tree, it's like a little green pea. But right now with the color and the feel of it, they're perfect, Royal said. He said they're ripe, matured and ready to eat.

"It's a juicy fruit, and a lot of people were used to tangerines for years," Royal said. "But a tangerine is a dry fruit, and it peels like a satsuma, but a satsuma is good for children and peels real easy and is a real juicy fruit and very tasty."

Royal is relieved his trees seem to have survived, but he won't know for sure until the ice melts.

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