Variety key to oranges all year
We are used to buying oranges in the supermarket all year, so perhaps we forget that they are just as seasonal as any other fruit. Their year-round availability is a product of carbon-dioxide emitting transport and storage systems. Fortunately, varieties exist that allow the home orchardist to pick fresh fruit nearly all year.
We kick off the orange season with the Leng navel, starting to ripen now. We grow one out of sentiment, as the Leng family of orchardists, who discovered this early fruit, were connections of my mother’s family. The fruit are a bit smaller than the standard Washington navel, but very tasty. Commercially, the new variety Navelina is taking over from the Leng, as it’s larger and ripens at the same time.
Washington navel is the next cab off the rank. These are the standard navel orange trees, whose fruit will start to ripen in June. There’s another orange, Lane’s late navel, which ripens in September/October, conveniently taking us almost up to the first fruits from the Valencia oranges.
Valencias will start ripening in November (depending on the rainfall and heat) and will hang on to the tree, bats and fruit fly permitting, until the following autumn. The fruit might go green after a while, but that makes no difference to the eating or juicing quality.
For eating, the various navels can’t be beaten. The flesh is finer and firmer and the flavour is great. Navels are more difficult to juice, though, and can’t be used commercially for juice because it gets bitter in storage. Valencias don’t have that problem and are the orange used for juicing around the world. A well-grown, fully tree-ripened Valencia is a very fine fruit also, so between them and the navels you should be able to enjoy orange delights year-round.