Friends of Farming
San Diego County
Citrus grown in the desert near Borrego Springs faces some unique challenges when it comes to water and the weather, but those challenges create fruit that has its own special place in the market. Seley Ranches is one of the larger citrus producers in the region with 370 acres of certified organic lemons, grapefruit, and tangerines. Jim Seley talked to Farm Bureau staff about citrus grown in Borrego and what makes it special.
Top commercial varieties?
The biggest crop we have is lemons and grapefruit; we grow Lisbon and Eureka lemons. We also produce different tangerine varieties; Minneolas, Daisies, and Tangos.
What is the planting and harvesting timeline for citrus in Borrego?
One of the benefits we have down here is really our harvest time. We plant the young trees, generally, in February, and harvest lemons as early as August and as late as December. Grapefruit we’ve harvested as early as September and as late as April. Tangerines are much shorter; we’ll harvest - according to the variety - from late October to January. I think in San Diego, being more coastal, fruit comes off 30-60 days after us. Lemons grown in Borrego are going to be harvested October – November and the grapefruit peak will be January.
What is the general market for your fruit?
We have a local produce stand and sell fruit there and ship to a few local markets. We also ship fruit via UPS all over the state; we have a website and we get quite a few people who enjoy our fruit from Canada who have visited down here during the winter. Apart from direct marketing most of our fruit goes to Corona College Heights Orange and Lemon Association and that goes all over; to Japan, Taiwan, and of course to all the Whole Foods markets and places like that. We also ship through Sunrise Farms.
What are some of the challenges of producing citrus in Borrego?
Weather and water. We can get pretty cool in the winter, and of course we have the summer heat which we have to adjust our irrigation to. We do a lot of irrigating at night because of evaporation. We’re all under mini sprinklers. The soil is not heavy it’s a sandy loam, so we’ve worked hard over the years to add organic matter into the soil to help us on our water holding ability. We’ve always experimented down here; we put in drip irrigation in 1968 and ended up with micro sprinklers. It’s an ongoing challenge and that’s what makes it fun. I think we were one of the first in the desert to use drip irrigation for citrus, but we found out we couldn’t use drip irrigation with compost. You have to break that down and you have to use micro sprinklers to do that.
What is unique about citrus grown in Borrego aside from harvest times?
We have a very good quality fruit. It’s not a high acid fruit, it has a high sugar content. It just has great taste appeal to it. That’s why we have people from all over who have visited Borrego who go to our website and send our citrus as Christmas gifts.
Are there aspects of growing citrus that you find interesting or fascinating?
I enjoy the whole process; we have to constantly improve what we do. I guess it’s the same as any farmer feels. You work to get the optimum water and optimum fertilizer at the same time. Everyone may feel that what they’re doing is unique but we’re probably all doing the same thing. It’s the timing of the sprays, and the pruning methods, and the challenges that we have. We’re in our third generation now and the fourth generation is coming along. Our hope is that the farm will continue through the family generations.
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