Louisiana citrus is some of the best available. This year is no different; there is a bumper harvest, and the crop is sweeter than usual, according to Plaquemines Parish producers. Though the last winter did some damage to our backyard and commercial citrus trees, Louisiana citrus is still a sweet treat that is readily available.
But there's something that consumers of Louisiana citrus should know. In the past 20 years, Louisiana citrus has come under attack by two serious diseases: citrus canker, first detected in 2013, and, in 2008, a disease called citrus greening.
These diseases do not affect your ability to go to the grocery store and buy bags of locally grown oranges, satsumas or grapefruit. Fruit on trees that have citrus canker is fine to eat. The fruit is not infected. But because the bacteria can cling to surfaces, citrus from parishes where canker has been found is washed, trimmed and disinfected to prevent its spread, and a certificate of inspection is placed on each box. Groceries and reputable farmers markets will not sell fruit that doesn't have this certificate, so you can buy with confidence.
In the case of citrus greening, shoppers will never see affected fruit. That's because this devastating disease causes the citrus to go sour, and the ruined fruit never makes it to the grocery store shelf.
Scientists are doing their best to slow the spread of these diseases, hoping to buy time as they look for resistant varieties or ways to protect trees from infection. One tool for battling the spread is to quarantine fruit from affected parishes. Because of the presence of citrus canker, there is a quarantine on fruit that comes from Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James and St. John parishes. To isolate citrus greening, Orleans, Jefferson and Washington parishes are quarantined.
But scientists have gone even further, trying to stop the invasive "vector," or transmitter, that spreads citrus greening. That's an insect called Asian citrus psyllid, and it's been found in Jefferson, Orleans, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Terrebonne parishes, so they too are under quarantine.
If you are buying a citrus tree, go to a nursery and look for a certificate noting the tree has been inspected and is free of disease. No tree can be legally moved outside of the quarantined areas without a label indicating that it has been certified disease-free. A tree sold on Craigslist by a backyard grower might be cheaper, but besides breaking the law, buyers run the risk of a tree that will die young, and that might spread disease to other trees in your yard and neighborhood.
Homeowners with diseased trees are advised to destroy them. Visit the LSU AgCenter website for more information.
If you live in a parish where citrus is quarantined, resist the temptation to bring a box of backyard oranges to your Aunt Betty in Lafayette for Thanksgiving. You could unwittingly be causing problems for the citrus industry statewide. Get certified, inspected, local citrus instead, and help keep citrus growing in Louisiana.
I have a small raised bed for growing vegetables. My okra still looks great and is bearing, but I think it is time to plant the fall veggies. What should I do? — Axl
Well, Axl, your okra will continue to grow and bear until the colder weather stops it. Many years that may be too late to start fall crops. You just have to make the decision that it is time for the okra to be replaced, and rip it out. Otherwise, you may not have a fall garden.