Since seedless mandarins and tangerines, like Cuties, Halos, and Delites have become so readily available in grocery stores during most of the year, my kids have gotten really picky about the occasional seeded mandarin from our own backyard tree. It didn’t help that cuties had very persuasive commercials about five years ago convincing them that seedless was the only way to go.
Although I technically have a seedless variety, Owari Satsuma, due to the surrounding citrus trees both in my backyard and neighbors’ yards, my mandarins often get cross pollinated by the many bees attracted to the flowers and thus end up with some seeds. Based on the bee activity I have seen, I actually think mandarin flowers are the bees’ favorite. Early this past spring, I decided that since it was likely to be a heavy crop year for my mandarin, I might as well experiment with PREVENTING seeds and cross pollination of the flowers. I researched how growers kept their Cutie fruit seedless, and then tried to duplicate it my little backyard. I was surprised to learn Cutie growers actually took beekeepers to court in California’s central valley and asked the state legislature to get involved, too. Wow. Preventing bees to the yard was nearly impossible, as well as totally undesirable for my other fruit trees that need the cross pollination.
Commercial tangerine growers that are unable to keep bees out of their established orchards cover their rows of trees with fine insect netting. Many growers are starting to plant a new variety from University of California called Tango that doesn’t set seeds even if cross pollinated. It eliminates the need or expenses for growers to tent. It is seedless even with pollination. I picked up a teeny tiny one last summer, but it is living in a pot still. With a second mandarin tree, I am hoping to get plenty of tangerines each year, despite alternate bearing. But back to the tenting of my established Mandarin…
A tree net in the size that would fit my tree was nearly $100. Ouch! I considered making a homemade version with tulle from the fabric store, but it would have required a lot of yardage. Instead, I took the easy route and improvised with an extra large mosquito net, the kind designed for bedding and home decor, to cover our 6 ft tall tree. It didn’t quite cover completely and the bees were still getting through to the flowers, therefore, I ended up buying a second one. In the end, it was about the same cost as tulle, but a whole lot quicker.
Once I fully covered the tree, the bees were still really determined to get at those mandarin flowers, almost as if they preferred them over anything else in the yard. There was easy access Bearss lime or Improved Meyer lemon flowers in bloom right next to it, but the net covered Mandarin was all a buzz with frustrated bees for weeks. They were like velocirapors testing the fence for weaknesses, systematically. That first week, every day, multiple times a day, I had to open the netting and release a bee or two that managed to find a gap or weakness in the barrier. The seams between the two nets had to be rolled and clipped with clothes pins tightly. I even had to weight down the entire bottom edge because they would crawl in at the bottom.
Once the mandarin tree was done flowering, after about 6 or 7 weeks, I took the netting off. Shortly after that I was dismayed to see the tree dropping lots and lots of teeny tiny green fruits about the size of a pea. I was afraid I was going to loose the whole crop. Sadly, there was nothing I could do at that point. I just kept an eye on it.
It ended up okay. I guess it was only thinning itself, because as the remaining fruit developed and grew, it looked like there were still plenty. Despite my worries, we ended up having a really heavy crop year.
This was the earliest we have ever started picking mandarins. After ripening all summer and fall, I started picking the first few mandarins in early October. I don’t think the early ripening had anything to due with the netting. A lot of my other plants have been behaving out of season and I think it is weather and drought related. About four or five of those first fruits did have a seed or two. They must have been the result of the sneaky bees that found their way in before I started covering it more securely.
Since then, I have not found anymore seeds. NONE. NADA! It has been awesome! Needless to say, both the kids and I have been happy with the results. We have been sharing with neighbors and friends. They are better than anything from the store. I just wish the season was longer.