Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner visits Picayune satsuma farm

Published 8:23 pm Friday, December 7, 2007

Mississippi Department of Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell was in town on Thursday to visit the Pigott Satsuma farm, owned by Vernon and Horace Pigott.

The farm, which is located on Pigott Road just off Mississippi 43 South, consists of 250 trees on three acres, and has been in operation by Vernon Pigott, who is 86 years old, and his brother Horace, who will be 92 later this month, for about 10 years, Vernon Pigott said.

“I don’t know of a larger orchard in the state of Mississippi,” Pigott said.

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Pigott said late in the year is the perfect time for satsumas, which need the cold weather to turn a ripe yellowish-orange color.

“The cool weather makes them yellow. You can’t see diseases on them when they are green, and they will stay green until the weather gets cooler. Once they turn, they will stay on the tree until about February, unless there’s a really cold snap of several days at around 32 degrees,” Pigott said.

The fruit only makes once each year, but stays ripe until well after picking, which may last for several weeks, Pigott said.

“Usually you won’t find satsumas growing any further north than this, because the weather will be much colder the further north you get. I have a friend in Waynesboro who has a couple of trees, but your larger growers are generally further south,” Pigott said.

Pigott’s family and friends help with the picking, which consists of using pruning shears to snip the stem just above the fruit.

“You can’t pull them straight off the tree. You have to cut the stem as close as you can to the fruit. If you pull them straight off, it takes a little bit of the skin and then they will mildew within a day or two,” Pigott said.

Pigott’s son-in-law, Bill Misenheimer, says it’s difficult to tell how many satsumas are on a tree just by looking at it.

“We like to joke about how many five-gallon buckets we will get off of a tree, but you can’t tell how many are on there until you get up under the tree and start picking,” Misenheimer said.

Pigott said he has seen as many as 15 or 20 five-gallon buckets of satsumas picked off a single tree, not including any that may be flawed or diseased.

“We feed the bad ones to the cows. Won’t nothing eat a satsuma except a cow, but when they see us coming with the buckets (of satsumas), they come running,” Pigott said.

The Pigott farm is a family operation, and Pigott usually sells the fruit from his carport for about $10 per peck.

“Most people don’t know what a peck is, but it’s about a quarter-bushel,” Pigott said.

Pigott said a five-gallon bucket, which is about a peck and a half, usually weighs about 50 pounds, and he can usually get about 750 pounds of the fruit off of one tree.

“I sell by volume, not by number,” Pigott said.

Pigott said the best way to store a satsuma is not in the refrigerator, but in a cool, damp place.

“If you store them out of the sun and heat and where it is damp, then they’ll keep for about two weeks. If you store them in the icebox, then the sap will dry up and they’ll be ruined within a day or two,” Pigott said.

Spell said he has known the Pigott brothers for years, ever since they worked with his father back in the 1930s and 1940s.

“The Pigotts are good, hard-working people. They have a very unique operation. It’s Mississippi’s largest commercial satsuma farm. The satsuma is a very healthy and wonderfully sweet fruit, and we want people to know about this place. This farm is something unique to Pearl River County,” Spell said. “These people aren’t just selling fruit, they’re selling an experience.”