Oranges are prized for their sweet-but-tart taste and their nutritional value. Whether they are being eaten straight, used as juice or in a number of other recipes, oranges have a wide range of possibilities. They are generally harvested in the winter, though the exact time they are harvested may differ depending on the variety. Although some farm technologies have advanced over time, the vast majority of oranges are still harvested by hand.
One of the most important aspects of an orange harvest is the yield. Whether you are a grower depending on the crop for your livelihood or a backyard grower, increasing yield offers the most benefit. Mature trees often are capable of producing up to 150 pounds in a single harvest, especially for navel oranges. Early season and late season orange varieties may yield slightly less. (See Reference 1.)
Although the vast majority of oranges are harvested by hand whether the tree is part of a commercial operation or in a backyard, some have tried other techniques. In the middle part of the 20th century, some harvesters used clippers. More recently, harvesters have used shakers and air jets in an attempt to speed up the process. (See Reference 2.) Some locations use cherry pickers, which help workers get to the top of trees and pick by hand.
Oranges ripen for harvest at different times of the season. Some, such as navel oranges, are early and mid-season oranges that may even be picked before December. Others, such as the Valencia orange, are late-season varieties that should only be picked in February or later. (See Reference 1.) It is usually easy to tell if the orange is ripe because it will change from green to a yellow or orange. Oranges picked to early will not ripen, and oranges picked too late will be soft and undesirable.
It is best to leave oranges on the tree until ready to be eaten or used as juice. This allows the orange to stay its freshest. If the fruit is in danger of becoming overripe, then oranges may be preserved by refrigeration for approximately a week. (See Reference 3.) Some may last even longer, depending on the variety. The best way to tell if oranges on a tree may be in danger of becoming overripe is simply by looking under the tree and seeing if many oranges have fallen off.
Oranges, especially in the United States, are available year-round, though the prices may higher at certain times of the year for a number of reasons. First, some varieties are harvested at different times during the season. When the harvest is over in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere harvest begins in earnest. Most imported oranges in the United States come from Brazil. This international trade ensures those countries with the wealth to import the crop are supplied year-round.