The fight to Save the Citrus
By Debra Chase
“The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched
only by its hostility…its purity.
A survivor – unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”
From the 1979 film, Alien
Most scientists today would say that there is no such thing as a perfect organism. There is one pathogen that comes very close though, and it is living on earth. Enjoying the warmer temperatures of many sections of our planet, it has spread from its origin in China to other areas of the world. Arriving in the United States in 1998 it was first detected in Florida in 2005 and it has since spread to all of the southern states. Traveling on its own personal vector it is moving fast. California is desperate to avoid it and Florida is at war with it.
Driven by globalization, climate change and monoculture farming practices, the yellow dragon is spewing its fire over citrus orchards throughout the southern United States. This creature and its vector like the heat. They like it so much they have moved into Florida and over 80 % of the citrus crops have been affected, somewhere around 90,0000 acres of citrus. Arriving in Southern California in 2012 it has just recently been detected as far north as San Jose.
In China, they call it Huanglongbing, the Yellow Dragon Disease. An invasive microbe that originated from Asia and has circled the globe. Heat tolerant, the Yellow Dragon moves along on its own special spaceship, the Asian Citrus Psyllid, Diaphorina citri , an ugly little fly that moves around very quickly. The fly eats the new leaf growth and afterward its dark passenger is injected into the tree. The Yellow Dragon can kill a full grown tree in as little as 5 years. Escaping detection for the first couple of years, it has an opportunity to establish itself within the tree and once established it is impossible to eradicate. This lively little alien pathogen literally sucks the life out of a citrus tree. There is currently no known cure for this disease and no known strains of citrus varieties are immune. Commercial growers are using conventional management practices to control the little fly such as pesticides and antibiotics. In some areas the trees are dug up and burned in a final attempt to kill the Yellow Dragon. Scientists are also working to develop a bio-engineered or GMO version of certain varieties of citrus to combat the disease.
None of these practices aids the organic farmer. She cannot use the highly toxic pesticides or antibiotics and she certainly does not want anything to do with GMO’s but she may have a hero. Biologic control in an even smaller creature, a parasitic wasp, found to be a natural predator of the fly. Tamarixia radiata is about the size of a flea and this tiny creature from Pakistan has a big job ahead of it. Released last year in California by UC Riverside Scientists to help protect the citrus crop from the microbial invader, once established it will seek out, attack, and kill the invader fly, in turn killing the Yellow Dragon. So far, this is the organic citrus grower’s only hope.
We squeeze oranges, slice lemons, wedge limes and section grapefruits at an astonishing rate to the tune of billions of dollars annually in California alone. It is hard; no make that impossible to imagine a world without citrus fruits. If this alien is not eradicated we may end up in just such a world.
While we watch and await the fate of the alien invaders, being ever vigilant of our contributions to climate change and the spread of the disease, this simple beverage will assist in the long term appreciation of your orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit tree by creating a delicious beverage that enhances the natural flavors of the fruit and helps to preserve them.
Make a Citrus Shrub by adding 1 cup of your favorite citrus juice to a saucepan, (blood oranges are especially nice in this recipe) and mix it with ¼ cup local honey and ¼ cup organic apple cider vinegar. Bring the mixture to a high simmer, stirring constantly until reduced by 1/3. Remove from the heat allow it to cool and then pour it into your most beautiful quart jar. Stir well and cap it tightly. Leave it on the counter in the kitchen overnight. In the morning shake it gently and refrigerate for a few more days. The lovely citrus shrub is now ready to be mixed with sparkling water for a refreshing beverage.
“In a world where death is the hunter, my friend,
there is no time for regrets or doubts.
There is only time for decisions.” – Carlos Casteneda, Journey to Ixtlan
For more information on this invasive microbe and it’s devastating effects on the US citrus crop contact The California Department of Food and Agriculture .
Debra Chase is a self-taught traditional chef with over three decades of professional experience. She currently resides in Colusa County on a small farm.