From Seedy to Seedless

From Seedy to Seedless

Cuties and Halo seedless mandarins and tangerines are often this type mandarin, Owari Satsuma, Especially in December
The Satsumas should have been thinned much earlier in the season. Now the branches are bending down under the heavy weight of the fruit.

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.

Here is an article in the Fillmore Gazette about covered citrus trees. The above image is from the article but there are more photos of some netted trees there.

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 big enough to cover my mandarin tree was nearly $100 when I looked into buying one. 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 velociraptor 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.

After the mandarin tree was done flowering, about 6 or 7 weeks, I took the netting off.  That first year, 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.

citrus tree net
My mandarin tree covered with the tulle netting. This photo was taken back in March or April of 2018. I now use organza because it also keeps out leaf miners and psyllids. I kept it covered for about 6 – 7 weeks. It looks pretty funny out there. But it is worth it to me.

UPDATE February 2020: I have been covering the tree every spring for a number of years now, and it no longer is alternate bearing. It seems to crop the right amount every year. We continue to get completely seedless mandarins. Instead of mosquito netting, I now use organza to cover the tree. I sewed a giant tent out of it. The first one lasted four seasons. The sun tends to damage the organza fabric over time. It fades in the sun, so I buy whatever color is the cheapest I can find. I have also used the organza on a variety of my citrus trees in order to exclude the ACP insects that can spread HLB disease, while my citrus trees are actively growing in the spring. The colors I have tried include black, yellow and green, and so far with no difference in crop or tree growth that I have noticed.

5 thoughts on “From Seedy to Seedless

  1. Can you share a link to an organza that you are using with success? There appears to be so many options when I search organza and some of them seem very opaque and I would worry about adequate light pentation. Thank you!

    1. Hi Mike, It is just run of the mill plain organza that I use to cover my Satsuma mandarin. It has a hint of color, but is definately see through and the tree seems to do okay. It has been about 7 seasons I have been using it with success. I have used white, green, yellow, and black organza with silimar results. It lasts for only a few seasons before it starts to get some UV damage and begins to easily tear. My personal preference is for white. It stays looking nice the longest and it isn’t really any more or less opaque that the others. The color changes on the other colors. The Black turned orange. The green turned yellow. And the yellow fabric faded to white. I remove it as soon as the flowers are finished so if the light penetration is less than optimal, it was only for 6 to 8 weeks at the most.

      Fabric Barn craft store in Long Beach, California is where I buy (in person) the organza I use. It is a local store to me, but I have never used their website, and I am not necessarily recommending you buy it online from them. They sell it in 10 yd bolts for about $14, it is cheap to replace when needed.

      Joann has a similar product by the yard, but for a lot more money. Here is a similar product to what I buy locally at esty. Again, I have no experience with this seller, the link is just to give you an idea of what I use.

      I hope that helps a little bit. Best wishes. -Lianne at Hanbury House

  2. Very interesting. I’m trying to decide if covering the tree with nets for 6 weeks is worth the trouble! Does the tree just self-pollinate with wind? I would have thought bees were required for good fruit set.

    1. It doesn’t work with all citrus, only the kind that can set parthneocarpic fruit. I tried it on one of my two meyer lemons, and so far, no fruit set on it, but its a young tree. I have been covering the owari satsuma tree for three seasons. I no longer get seeds and it has dramatically helped with the alternate bearing. I have had bumper crops the last three years. An added bonus of the nets, it keeps out the bad bugs too like the leaf miners.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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