November 2013
Farm & Field

Time for Satsumas!

We’re okay if the temperature remains at 27 degrees,” Dallas Hartzog shared. “If it drops to 23 degrees though, we will implement our cold warming plans.”

Hartzog knows timing is vital to success. In any business the adage rings true, but is especially important in farming. In the management of Hartzog Family Farms, timing is key to survival and success for their satsuma trees.

In Houston County just off the beaten path of U.S. Highway 431, Hartzog and his family own and operate Hartzog Family Farms. Along with his wife Joann, three adult children and their spouses, Katie and Michael Hartzog, Connie and Tim Hartzog, and Susan and Rob Day, Hartzog manages the satsuma operation and thriving honey business. Grandchildren Joanna and Jacob Hartzog, and Jeffrey and Dallas Day help as well. Timing proves again and again to be important in the operation, from when the operation actually began, to growing and harvesting, and sharing and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

“Back when I worked for Auburn University’s Wiregrass Research and Extension Center, I realized at one point that retirement was only 5 years away for me,” Hartzog recalled. “Although I looked forward to retiring, I wasn’t ready to just sit down. I knew I would need something to occupy my time so I started studying my options.”


Michael (son) and Dallas Hartzog  pause by a satsuma tree in the late summer. The green satsumas ripen to a bright orange by November.


Hartzog grew up in the farming community of Baker Hill in Barbour County. At Auburn University, he studied soil fertility and plant physiology, attaining both an undergraduate and a masters degree in agriculture. He spent his career championing the cause of farming in Alabama. Naturally, some type of farming would be a part of his retirement! When Hartzog and his wife visited a satsuma u-pick operation in South Alabama one November, his wife suggested they try to grow a few satsuma trees – thinking they could grow a few to keep her husband busy in his retirement years. Her timing proved quite punctual as Hartzog told her he already considered the small orange fruit to be the perfect crop for them to grow!

Satsumas first arrived in Alabama in the late 1870s. Because they seemed to thrive in Alabama’s Coastal Plain, more than 18,000 acres of satsumas grew between Mobile and Dothan by 1923. Severe freezes after the 1920s wiped out the once-booming satsuma industry; by the late 1950s, the satsuma industry was basically gone. The potential for a growing satsuma industry in Alabama emerged again in the early 1990s as Auburn University research teams developed new ways to protect trees in freezing weather.


Dallas Hartzog shows how each satsuma tree is irrigated as he explains the importance of a dedicated water source.

Convinced satsumas would grow on his property approximately 90 miles from the Gulf Coast, Hartzog planted a few hundred trees, which was just the beginning of the family satsuma operation. After 11 years in the business, Hartzog Family Farms currently grows satsumas on two orchard sites for a total of 10 acres and 800 trees. Trees are typically planted at 90 trees per acre, 15 feet between trees, 25 feet between rows. Currently only 500 of the 800 trees are in production.

The satsuma trees growing on the Hartzog farm were all grafted onto root stock of the wild trifoliate orange because the rootstock of that tree tends to be stronger than that of the satsuma. Additionally, the wild trifoliate orange, which becomes known as the parent tree for the satsuma, prefers acidic to slightly acidic soils, which are readily found throughout the southern portion of Alabama. Grafting is done at the seedling nursery before the trees arrive at Hartzog’s property. Most of the trees growing on Hartzog Family Farms are of the Owari variety grafted onto the wild trifoliate orange tree. Timing is critical in properly grafting the satsuma tree onto the parent stock.

While growing satsumas is not overly complicated, Hartzog reminds interested growers that there are no free lunches in this world. Before he planted any trees, he learned all he could about satsuma production. Because of studies by Auburn University and others, good information has been published and is available about the trees. The orchards must be monitored several times a week for pests or other problems. Pruning is done as needed. Weeds in the orchard must be controlled. Fertilizer must be applied.

Satsumas must be individually clipped from the tree during harvest before being boxed for purchase at the Hartzog Family Farm one-day sale.


“Satsumas require a specialized, customized blend of fertilizer,” Hartzog stated. “We purchase all of our fertilizer at Headland Peanut Warehouse Co-op. The folks at the Co-op always do a great job of getting us exactly what we need.”

Hartzog encourages others to consider satsuma as a crop after carefully learning about the commodity.

In helping the trees survive possible frigid winter temperatures, timing is everything. While it does not happen often, temperatures in the region occasionally dip into the 20-degree range. When that happens, Hartzog and his family know it is time to carefully watch the temperature gauge.

“Winter freezes kill new growth on the satsuma trees,” Hartzog explained. “In a younger tree, critical temperature is 25-26 degrees; older trees maintain a critical temperature of 23 degrees. Temperatures at or below these markers indicate trouble for the trees.”


Satsuma trees conservatively produce approximately 300 pounds of fruit annually.

So each tree can be properly protected, every tree has its own source of water. Spraying water onto the base of the trees during the icy cold temperatures prevents the trees from freezing. When water freezes into ice, heat is released; as heat is released, it warms the tree. The heat travels up the tree, thereby warming the tree above the critically dangerous point.

Irrigation comes from dedicated wells at the farm. In both winter and summer months, having a dedicated source of water has proven significant for tree health and survival.

Satsumas ripen in the late fall. Conservatively, mature trees produce about 300 pounds of fruit per tree per year. The bulk of the Hartzogs’ satsumas are enjoyed by many Alabama students through the school lunch program providing students with fresh fruit from an Alabama farm.

While satsumas may not yet be available in the fresh fruit section of the local grocery store, they can be purchased directly from Hartzog Family Farms. Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Hartzogs offer a one-day farm sale of their satsumas. Customers from Alabama, Georgia and Florida return each year to purchase the delicious, easy-to-peel fruit. As the satsumas ripen in the fall, the Hartzog family takes a team approach to prepare for and handle the one-day farm satsuma sale. Hours accumulate as family members spend time harvesting, packaging and readying 20-pound boxes for the sale. The actual sale day requires family teamwork to ensure a smooth transaction for customers purchasing the hundreds of boxes of satsumas. When he talks about the one-day farm sale, Hartzog excitedly shares his enthusiasm and appreciation in the fact the experience is shared by his wife, children and grandchildren.

One Day Farm Sale!

Saturday, November 23, 2013
6 a.m.-3 p.m. or until the fruit is gone!
20-pound boxes for sale – $20/box

Hartzog Family Farms
1633 Otis Buie Rd.
Webb, AL 36376

Hartzog recognizes and appreciates the fact that his entire family is involved in the satsuma operation. He claims everyone brings different strengths to the family business and in turn helps the operation grow and improve. He loves his grandchildren and is grateful for the opportunity he has had to spend time with them, sharing his work ethic and love of the land.

“If we can’t leave it better than we found it, what did we get here for?” Hartzog asked.

In so many areas of growing satsumas, timing is critical to success. For Hartzog and his family, farming and family time are the real successes of growing satsumas.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.