Oranges | Mission, TX, February 2015
Oranges are harvested between mid-October and mid-April in the Rio Grande Valley at Lone Star Citrus located in the subtropical area of Southern Texas. Alluvial, fine-grained soil created from the Rio Grande River over the centuries makes the ground very fertile and ideal for citrus trees. The warm breezes off of the Gulf of Mexico create a wind current that allows the region to have on average 340 frost-free days throughout the year. The orange trees are about 12 feet high and 10 feet wide. The tree rows are spaced about 7 feet apart, which is wide enough for a forklift to maneuver the harvest bins that are four feet square and three feet tall (maximum filled weight of 1,300 pounds) between trees. Three to five bins are placed in the rows for the harvesters to fill. The harvesters scramble from the bottom to the top of the trees using a ladder, often made of wood. They collect the oranges and place them into large shoulder strapped canvas bags that can carry around 70 pounds of produce. The pickers then unload the oranges into the bins that are in their grove. Usually, one harvester picks one row of trees. Light rain during the harvest season is not uncommon but does not affect their productivity despite making the groves muddy and the trees saturated with dew. During this time, the pickers will often wear ponchos or water repellent gear under or between their layers of garb to prevent getting sick from working in wet clothes during the fall and winter. In addition to wearing hats, long sleeved shirts, and long pants to protect them from the sun, the harvesters often wear gloves and thick full-length arm sleeves to protect their hands and arms from scraping on the branches.