By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I was looking for inspiration for this month’s column and was trying to tie it in with this issue’s focus, which is grove management. Lo and behold, I came across a 44-page booklet I had tucked away called the “Book of Truth for Planters of New Groves” by Ocklawaha Nurseries, Inc. of Lake Jem, Florida.
The inside cover contains this quote: “No Tree is a First-Class Tree Unless Budded from a Bearing Tree of Known Quality and Quantity of Production.”
The booklet’s foreword states: “The prospective planter of a Florida citrus grove is confronted with an array of intricate, and to him often difficult, problems. Location of the grove site, choice of land, clearing, plowing, fencing, preparation of soil, selection of varieties, purchase of trees, planting and adoption of a grove management program all require careful consideration, for upon the proper consideration of each of these problems depends the ultimate success of the grove as a commercial project.
“This ‘Book of Truth for Planters of New Groves’ is dedicated in the hope that it will help new growers to start their groves right. Thirty years of practical experience in all phases of Florida citrus growing is the basis for the suggestions hereinafter offered.”
According to the booklet, Ocklawaha Nurseries “owned and maintained the oldest and largest test groves in Florida for the express purpose of propagating citrus nursery stock” and was “recognized as having contributed more to the improvement of Florida citrus stocks than any other organization.”
The booklet noted that “Management of the new grove is not an intricate problem and need not be so regarded by the new planter … the careful observance of all of the suggestions hereinafter offered, is all that is necessary to assure the successful growth of trees during their early years. But make sure that you carefully consider and properly carry out each of the suggestions which is offered in this chapter, for lack of attention in any one phase of citrus culture may result in an unsatisfactory development.”
Those suggestions started with “The first requisite in planting a grove is to get a good piece of land. This can usually be judged by the timber growth, which, if tall and straight and heavy in character and well-leaved, usually indicates not only a good surface soil but a good sub-soil.” The booklet then describes how and when to clear the land, planting cover crops before the trees are planted, and when to plant the trees:
“The season of planting in Florida runs from November 1st to March 1st and during the summer rainy season, generally from June 1st to July 15th. Experience has taught us, however, that the winter planting is the most successful and the earlier the better as trees planted early in the winter months will put out a short growth of leaves and twigs which will develop the root system of the trees while the trees remain dormant through the winter period, thus forming a foundation that will support a thrifty spring growth. Do not get the idea that it is necessary to wait until after danger of frost to plant your trees, for if your trees are planted early in November and put on foliage, the chances are that those trees will remain throughout the winter season in a more dormant condition than they would if left in the nursery.”
What’s interesting is the booklet was published in 1928, after the devastating freeze of 1894–95 moved the company from Ocklawaha to Lake Jem. S.M. Trimble and R.J. Trimble headed up the organization at that time. Sadie Trimble ran the company when her husband died in the flu epidemic of 1918. The company, which also included groves with fruit packed under the “Pedigreed” label, was eventually run by granddaughter Dorothy Conner Shipes. The fourth-generation citrus grower became the first female director of Florida Citrus Mutual and the second female member of the Florida Citrus Commission. I would say that’s quite a pedigree!
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.