SEE THE SEA ORANGES
Brad Eastman, an Agricultural Engineer with a Ph.D. in horticulture from Plumstone University, has been raising citrus commercially for over ten years--in a forty foot deep pond which covers more than ten acres behind his North Pinetop, Florida, home.
At first glance, the Orange Pond, as Brad calls it, looks much like any of the thousands of small ponds that dot this part of the country. However, closer examination reveals that what grows under this water is not bulrushes and lily pads as one would expect; what you see growing in this water is trees--orange trees.
Eastman first got started in the unusual farming venture after flood waters inundated the small experimental citrus grove he had been cultivating for his doctoral thesis.
"I was devastated when I first saw what the flood waters had done," Eastman said. "The entire grove was covered with ten feet of water, and there were oranges floating around everywhere. I was certain that I would have to start my experiments all over again, which would set me back at least five years." But, as so often happens, what started as apparent misfortune turned out to be opportunity in disguise.
When the flood waters started to recede, a steady stream of oranges began flowing from the grove back to the river. It was then that Eastman noticed that the neighborhood children had angled a volleyball net across the stream at its narrowest point and were funneling the oranges over to their side of the stream so they could collect them in burlap bags.
"I realized that these kids were harvesting an entire crop of oranges in about one twentieth of the time it would take using traditional methods," Eastman said, "and I decided that the same thing could be done commercially if I could only figure out how to make oranges grow underwater."
Thus started a quest that was to take ten years. "The biggest problem was developing a strain of citrus that could live in an aqueous environment," Eastman said. "We tried several kinds of gene manipulation, but nothing worked. Then my wife asked me one day why I didn't just use grafting techniques--like she does with her roses. It seemed too simple to work, but I tried it anyway. The results were beyond my wildest dreams."
What Eastman did was graft mature citrus limbs onto common kelp--giant seaweed--which had been genetically modified to grow in fresh water and transplant the result into his private pond. Three years later he was able to harvest the first crop of aquaranges, as the modified fruit has come to be known.
"This will be the biggest thing to happen in farming in 100 years," Eastman told reporters. "The kelp grows so fast that we can get our first crop in less than three years, and we can raise trout in the same pond with the oranges. So we can raise fish and oranges at the same time without using up any valuable farmland."
Eastman is working on a strain of oranges that will grow in salt water. "The deeper the water, the bigger the oranges grow," he explained. "If I can get citrus to live in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, I'll be able to raise oranges as big as basketballs."