By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
A.B. Michael was known as the “Dean of the Citrus Industry.” His Orchid Island fruit consistently won awards for its high quality. He was a major proponent of fruit for its taste and appearance. Michael was one of the first to institute grading standards in the packinghouses he ran. Here are a few excerpts from a 1962 Florida Citrus Mutual article by Fred J. Shilling, Jr. about how Michael and his son, Joe, handled their grove operations.
“A balanced fertilizer of a 4-8-10 formula is used twice a year. It contains 40% to 50% organics composed of bone meal, guano and caster pumice. These applications are in the late fall and early spring, using around 12 to 15 pounds to the mature trees. Magnesium is used in the winter application but none in the summer. No minor elements are used. Organic fertilizer has all the trace elements needed.”
Michael said, “You cannot raise exceptional quality grapefruit and have a tree that has been overly fertilized — especially with nitrogen. Some years we go down as low as 2% nitrogen in our fertilizer in the spring application. I realize, of course, the ridge groves in the interior will need more nitrogen than we need here on the coast.”
Joe added, “We believe any grapefruit tree that is force-fed (especially nitrogen) adversely affects the internal quality. The Experiment Station people are trying to do a job but are going about it in the wrong way. They strive to produce quantity, whereas we strive to produce internal quality as well as external appearance. There’s a difference in quality. Actually, it is two things: external appearance and internal eating quality.”
They also used heavy cover crops that at times rose chest high before they were cultivated into the soil to help provide organic material.
“We try to let as much grass and cover crops grow as we can. We have to kick some of the stuff down for summer oil spray and then we let it run wild. Humus improves the bacterial action and increases the fertility of the soil, thus giving the fruit a better texture and flavor. Grapefruit growers must work toward getting more humus into the soil even if it means bending over backwards,” Michael emphasized.
“Normally, we use copper and oil to control melanose and scale, and sulfur to control rust mite. In summer oil, we use Zineb or Parazate to control rust mite,” Joe noted. “Copper and oil are used after the petals are off the bloom. We use just enough oil to stick the copper properly, or about a gallon and a half to 2 gallons of oil to the 500-gallon tank. We use about 8 to 10 pounds of copper if it’s a really rainy spring, and if the weather is dry, we cut it to 6 or 7 pounds. The summer oil spray is applied in June or July, and we use five gallons to the tank. We use a very light oil. We do not use post-bloom nutritional sprays. In fact, the least amount of spraying you can get by with, the better off you are.”
Michael also said that “it is desirable, if possible, to bring the trees into the fall of the year slightly hungry. This improves the coloring and texture of the fruit and leaves the tree ready and eager to take up the late fall application of fertilizer.”
I liked that he used the term “slightly hungry” and the fact that he focused on the quality as well as the taste of the fruit. As I’ve always said, for Florida citrus, “our beauty is inside!”
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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