Susan Harris
All about gardening the eco-friendly way, by Susan Harris and 22 other garden writers and experts.

The Satsuma Society

November 27, 2008 · 14 comments

by Guest Essayist Ed Cullen.  Ed’s a commentator on National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" and feature writer and columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate. Listen to more of Ed’s essays on the NPR site.   Ed sent me this essay about the citrus Satsuma and I couldn’t resist pairing it with the previous post, about growing fruit trees.  Susan

The knock on the door one afternoon signaled the opening session of the Satsuma Society, a collection of friends, acquaintances, utter strangers, walkers, runners, neighborhood children and garbage men  drawn each fall to our front yard citrus tree. 

The pilgrimage starts with children on the street who, thirsty, hungry or just people who know the importance of good diet, are attracted by the dangling, bright orange Satsumas that decorate branches hanging near the street. 

Once the children harvest the lowest mandarin oranges, the next wave, taller pilgrims, move up to the higher branches. 

A couple of years ago, I was sure the harvest was over when the remaining fruit was a good 10 feet off the ground. 

I was working in another part of the yard when I looked up to see a garbage collector waving from his perch high on his truck. 

First, he pointed to the Satsuma tree. Then, he pointed to his mouth. I waved my approval, and the truck began backing down the street. The garbage men got most of what was left of that year’s crop. 

The other day, our caller was a woman who takes care of a wheelchair bound neighbor in her 20s. They’d been talking about the Satsumas since the small, tart oranges began turning color this year. 

The young woman is blind, but her caretaker had described the Satsumas to her. When I peeled one of the pieces of fruit for her, the young woman said, “Oh, I smell them.” 

They left my curbside orchard with a bag of Satsuma and some Meyer lemons. 

This accidental tree has given me more pleasure than anything else in my garden. This tree that should have never borne fruit has been my introduction to neighbors and passersby I wouldn’t have known otherwise. 

The tree is an accidental because it began as a seed from a Satsuma that came from the supermarket. The tree grew from a seed I buried in a pot of dirt and forgot. Later, I transplanted the seedling that sprouted into the spot where a big tree grows today.

My wife and I are careful to get our harvest early for the juice that goes into Satsuma ice cream. I manage to down another couple of dozen as I work in the garden. 

The fruit ripens in the fall, in time for Thanksgiving and is around when it’s time to stuff Christmas stockings. 

At our house, fruit in the children’s stockings was a tradition begun by our parents whose own parents had put fruit in stockings for Christmases long ago. 

The annual gathering of the Satsuma Society in our front yard reminds me that people may still find pleasure, even joy, in something as simple as a piece of fruit hanging, tantalizingly, from a tree branch over a city street.

Photo credit: Edible Landscaping.

{ 14 comments }

1 Kanak November 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Great post. What an interesting way to meet, observe and interact with people!

2 James Golden November 28, 2008 at 9:38 am

I grew up in Mississippi. My father always called tangerines Satsumas. What is the difference?

3 Susan Harris November 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Ed wrote me:
Here’s a link that answers the reader’s question about the difference between satsuma and tangerine. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080521052420AAYBNOs

4 mrtumnas November 30, 2008 at 11:41 am

Satsumas taste better than tangerines. That’s how I tell them apart :P

Tangerines have more tangy flavor and often aren’t as sweet.

5 Lee December 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Fabulous story. Thanks for sharing. We’re about to plant a Satsuma in our yard here in Austin and this makes me want to do it even more. I only wish I had a place in the front yard so passers-by could enjoy it too…

6 Wayne Burns December 3, 2008 at 6:16 pm

What a great story of connection! Boy, do we need connection on a community basis! A gift to passerbyers, says a lot, in so many ways… Thanks so much for the example, that’s how good things spread..

And what a great fruit tree!! How deep do the roots go? I wonder how they would do in a 3′x3′x22″ high raised bed planter, on poor soil, or even a hard surface, or planter with a bottom on a deck?
We are looking to match up plants with our product line, at least in a linking way, if not when ordering a raised bed kit. Any more links for seeds, seedlings and related products from green suppliers?

Thanks,
Wayne

7 susan harris December 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

Ed, still the reluctant commenter, sent me this to post for him:
Dear Wayne,
A commercial satsuma or Meyer lemon or a lime tree would do well in one of your nifty planters. The trees won’t get as large as ones planted in the ground, but with good potting soil, plenty of sun, water, good drainage and occasional fertilizer they’ll do fine. Allow for the shade they’ll throw and for walkway clearance.

I base this boundless optimism on the success friends in South Louisiana have had with citrus trees planted in large, very large, pots. The chief advantage of such an arrangement is being able to haul the portable tree inside when freezing weather threatens.

Anything I say for publication must carry the caveat that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I take pride in being an accidental gardener, as was the case with the citrus tree in the essay “The Satsuma Society.” That success came from mindlessly spitting seed from a satsuma or orange purchased at the supermarket into a pot of dirt that happened to be in my garden. One of the seedlings prospered, grew into a small tree and was rewarded for its persistence by getting transplanted into the ground just inside the low fence that separates my front yard garden from the street.

That was just the start of a series of accidents that resulted in “The Satsuma Society.” The accidental tree, one grown from the seed of a hybrid fruit, grew tall but produced nary a blossom. After a few years of spectacular leafage but no blossoms, a horticulturist friend suggested I put tourniquets of wire around some of the main branches to “force” blooming. It worked, and I’ve been harvesting and sharing satsumas for about five years. The tree was bloomless for about three years. The top of the then 10-foot tall satsuma tree was crushed in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but came back with a vengeance.

Placement of the tree next to the street was happenstance. The front yard is the only place sunny enough for me to have a garden. At the moment (Dec. 4), there is lush basil growing in profusion beneath the satsuma, protected from the north wind, in a South Louisiana winter where temp rarely reaches freezing. The surprise for me has been the reception the tree with its bright orange fruit against the winter sky has gotten from passersby. The conversations that take place next to tree and street are the best harvest.The tangy, accidental satsumas are lagniappe.

Gardens, wherever and whatever they grow, are successes when shared and appreciated by accidental visitors. I promise you that if someone plants a satsuma tree in one of your raised beds in the back yard, a visitor will find it and ask if he or she might have one of the small oddly shaped oranges. You may get the story of how your visitor came to have his first satsuma or lemon or orange or lime. Maybe it came from the garden of a grandparent or father or mother or favorite aunt, uncle, next door neighbor or neighborhood down the street.

Gardens are a form of history and literature, the stories of our lives and how those lives are nurtured, often by accident.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a satsuma in the toe of your stocking. Ed Cullen, Accidental Gardener

8 Wayne Burns December 4, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Ed,

Thank you for your wonderful response!

It’s great to hear that satsuma might do well in a large planter, we will search out a local supplier, if possible.
I can’t say that the only reason we started this raised garden bed kit business is to spread gardening to more people, but it’s a big part of it. The planet is in dire need to get back to basics. Nothing can be more local, than growing your own.

Gardening needs to be easy, if we want more people to do it. We cannot continue to buy food shipped from half way around the world, let alone half way across the country. Consumers are getting that message, our master gardener, believes that people need to have salad greens, right outside the door, so they don’t have to walk to the garden for a salad, or some greens to cook for dinner.. Easy harvest, make a big difference in peoples use, if you have to put your shoes on, some people will just open the fridge instead, and not get into the habit of the garden harvest.. The gardening habit sometimes takes a while to get into…. but like exercise, once you get started and feel the results, you actually, want to do it, it’s just getting to that point that is the hard part!
So making it easy to start with, means a higher level of success for the gardener, sooner.. which benefits the gardener, and the planet.. Let’s all start thinking seven generations out again, like the people who were here before us.

Wishing you the same Merry Christmas and lots of love and health in your life.

Wayne

9 Drew December 8, 2008 at 1:01 am

Wonderful story,
Even though I live away now this makes me proud to be a fellow Baton Rougian. Good for you for carrying on the Louisiana traditions of sustainable gardening, growing fabulous Satsumas, and being friendly. I have never encountered better people than the citizens of South Louisiana.

Thanks for sharing,
Drew

10 hazel February 2, 2009 at 10:16 am

I have a satsuma called “Ada”. She is 80 years old. She’s absolutely marvellous for her age. She only has a few crow’s feet and not many wrinkles at all. Shes been through World WarII and it’s taken its toll on her.
She’s recently been away for a skin peel and is looking absolutely fabulous.

11 Cindy February 4, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Do you know if you have to have more than one satsuma for pollenation, or is it self pollenating.

Thanks, Cindy

12 Ed Cullen March 25, 2009 at 9:44 am

Dear Cindy,
I have one satsuma tree, as do most home gardeners I know. Pollination no problem. I’d like to have another tree, but I’m doing well to pick all the ones on the single tree. Most of the satsuma oranges never make it into the house. I eat them standing in the garden. Helps me make up my mind whether to yank or not yank some plant. I like to squeeze the satsumas for the juice that I put into homemade ice cream. Talk about good. Happy Spring, Ed

13 Kevin & Family July 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm

My family is also a member of the Satsuma Society – the Prairieville Chapter. We joined a few years back when one of our neighbors began harvesting fruit from two trees they planted alongside their house. The last two years most of the neighbors, including us, make multiple visits to the most amazingly loaded and delicious satsuma trees for over a month each late fall. All to the enjoyment of the tree owners.

This year we gained some extra room in our backyard as a very large old oak tree did not survive Gustov. Now with lots of sunlight and open space, we have become charter members of the Satsuma Society – we planted two Louisiana Early Satsuma trees. Despite their small size these baby trees will each produce a September crop – 5 satsumas on one tree and 6 on the other. Not bad for the first year!

In a couple of years, our club fully expects to have satsumas from early September all the way through late November. Now that should help drive up property values in our small neighborhood.

One other note: Last year we received a substantial amount of snow and my son who is seven got his first real exposure as we had several inches. The first item on order was to build a snowman – and a fine cajun snowman he was. What set him apart from his northern cousins were his eyes. You see, unlike coal this snowman had satsumas and I must say, they were perfect!

14 Ray Lyon November 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I live in the Lafayette area, have 1 satsuma with more fruit than we can eat. After giving to friends and relatives we still have left overs
Does anyone have any experience in freezing satsumas?
Thanks

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