Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Lake Weir Citrus

About a week ago I was out riding east along Sunset Harbor Road to Weirsdale to Beilings Citrus which is the old, now closed, gas station on Hwy 25 at 155th St. Unfortunately they're not open yet so my plan to drive out there later in the day to buy a bucket of juicers did not come to fruition - pun intended.

I continued east from there on 155th Street about a quarter mile where there is a healthy grove on the right side sheltered by a high pine windbreak and found the oranges were still somewhat green. I happened to have stopped there back in January when I saw they were harvesting the fruit into the trailer of a semi truck. I learned the trailer would hold 20 tons of oranges and they would take out nine loads from the 30 acre grove. 
Up until the 1980's Marion County had over 11,000 acres of citrus but a series of cold winters culminating in the 1989 Christmas freeze when temperatures dropped to below 20F for four days put an end to that. Nearly 90 percent of the entire Florida crop was affected by the freeze with the Lake Weir area alone losing over a million trees. John Jackson, the Central Florida citrus agent said it best "If you were still in the business, 1989 pretty well sent you packing."
But as we know from riding around Lake Weir many of the local farmers persevered, investing their time and money into clearing and replanting the groves in spite of the 5 to 6 year wait for any significant revenue. It's a tough business which has been made even tougher with the arrival in 2005 of the tree killing citrus greening disease.
So if are passing Bielings Citrus on a ride sometime in December and see Fred Hensley outside with his buckets of oranges and grapefruit don't hesitate to stop in to taste some fresh fruit right off the tree. You may also learn a lot about citrus and the local history.

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