PIECES OF THE PAST: Citrus Cultivation a Century Ago

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

The March 1921 issue of Citrus Industry looks very different from today’s publication, but what remains the same is articles providing practical information for growers.

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

I found the first issue (January 1920) of Citrus Industry, courtesy of Jen Dawson at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. As I looked through the issue, I came across an article on soil tillage. Unfortunately, the pages had stuck together and only the last part was readable, but I wanted to share it and hear your thoughts on this article (primarily about plowing) that is almost 100 years old!

Below is original text from the article:

“Again, if we have not thought out for irrigation too deeply, it should not be necessary to cultivate as deeply as we plow in order to tear up the floor of the furrow. It certainly seems reasonable to expect that we can again find a happy medium, where the cultivar will reach just deeply enough to accomplish the objects of water conservation and prepare for the proper absorption of the next irrigation and yet not so deeply that the roots are not permitted to come up on the way into the fertilizer prepared for them by the spring plowing. There’s nothing new in what you just read, nothing but what you have heard over and over and over again, but in the midst of so many new ideas and the method suggested, it may not be amiss to think back a little over the ways and wherefores of the various operations under the general head of soil tillage.”

Almost every citrus “old-timer” I know started out hoeing in the groves, whether paid by the row or the tree, they all had a hoe in their hands at some point. Here are a few more excerpts from the 1920 article:

“As soon as the banks protecting the buds are removed in the spring, start intensified cultivation to maintain a dust mulch for cultural irrigation and to keep the fibrous roots three or four inches deep in the damp soil, thus preventing their death through drying out in the surface soil during drouthy periods. At the beginning of the rainy season allow a cover crop to grow and, in early fall, on pineland soils, cut this cover crop, allow it to dry and then plow it under. Hoe the trees and thoroughly cultivate the middles. Cultivation in late fall should be reduced and entirely stopped during winter, so as to avoid undue stimulation during cold weather.

“A careless plowman, or an inefficient plow may ruin a season’s results in a grove by cutting the feeding roots. If the plow fitted with a shoe to regulate the depth of plowing Is used to turn the soil to a depth of three to three and one-half inches, and the cultivation thereafter is carried on to maintain this root depth, no injury will be realized from dried out roots in the top soil.

“With an equable climate, abundant rainfall and ideal physical environment for the tree roots, liberal fertilization and intensive cultivation are factors of first importance in realizing grove returns which will compare favorably with returns from any other orchard interest or section. The former simply requires money, or credit, and the latter common sense and elbow­grease, two of the main requirements for a successful citrus grower, whether he be Cracker born, or a novice in the game. It isn’t always the old timer who is the best citrus grower by a long ways, nor is he the leading exponent of cultural irrigation. On the contrary he has been credited with fathering the only other way to successfully grow citrus, namely by “cow-penning” his grove and omitting all other such practices as cultivation, irrigation, pruning and so on. Thus what little crop he makes is clear profit. But for the real dyed-in-the-wool citrus grower, intensive cultural irrigation is urgently recommended, to be accompanied by thoroughly scientific care along other lines of necessary work.”

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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