Make us your home page
Instagram

Honeybells help Ruskin's Dooley Groves ring in a new beginning

RUSKIN

Together, the couple made a choice.

Citrus canker broke their hearts when it burned their farm out in 2005. Nearly all 22,000 citrus trees — almost the entire grove — were eliminated when the Division of Plant Industry discovered 200 infected trees.

Mike Houghtaling cried when Dooley Groves, the farm that has been in his family since his great-grandfather planted there in 1890, was destroyed.

But after some time passed, he and his wife, Diane, made up their minds: They would replant.

It's not an easy thing to watch your family's history and livelihood disappear before your eyes and then look out at the land and decide to take that gamble all over again. But the Houghtaling family isn't one to give up.

"We decided not to die, honestly," Diane Houghtaling said. "We decided to replant and move forward. It's not as big, but we're getting there."

Now, with 8,000 trees spread over 25 acres, the Houghtalings welcome their inaugural season of honeybells. The trees are two or three years old and stand between 5 and 7 feet tall — a perfect height for visitors to go through and pick on their own.

"People like to know where their food comes from," Mike said. "They like to come out here and see it and pick it themselves. The local food movement is real."

• • •

Of all the fruits grown in Florida, honeybells are probably the most rare, Mike said. For those unfamiliar with honeybells, they are a hybrid of a tangerine and a pomelo, or grapefruit. Similar in appearance to oranges, they're distinguished by their taste — more mild, less sweet. They're sometimes called honeybell tangelos.

To say a honeybell is juicy would be an understatement. People sampling the fruit at Dooley Farms can be seen leaning forward, trying to avoid making a mess on their clothes. The juice drips down their chins and is wiped away by hands, sleeves or napkins — whatever is closest. The Houghtalings sell honeybell bibs in their store, as much a joke as a necessity.

On a Thursday in January in the middle of honeybell season, friends vacationing in Florida from Arkansas saw a sign for the farm on U.S. 41 and decided to visit the grove.

"They're good," said Dale Wagner, who had never tried one before. "We enjoy them and will probably come back to get some more before we go north."

Wagner and his friends strolled through the grove, the green leaves and orange fruit creating an idyllic Florida picture against the clear blue sky.

Joyce Champion said she enjoys cooking and will experiment with the honeybells, whose season lasts until the end of February.

"They'd probably be good in an orange sauce over a chicken or in a barbecue sauce," she said as she filled her basket with the fresh fruit.

Diane often shares the recipe for honeybell pie with her customers. It's similar to a lemon meringue pie, but better, she said.

Though they do a decent amount of business during the week, Diane said the weekends are chaos. Overall, she said, their inaugural season is off to a good start.

"We didn't know how much fruit we would grow or how the season would go," Mike said. "Everything is exceeding expectations."

The next day, Diane giggled as she watched cars drive in one after another from all over Hillsborough County. The full lot made her giddy with pride and hopeful about the farm's recovery.

"Look at this," she said, tears in her eyes as more cars drove in. "This is unbelievable."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

>> If you go

U-Pick at Dooley Groves

Dooley Groves, 1651 Stephens Road in Ruskin, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. U-Pick tours take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, weather permitting. Baskets range from $8 to $32, nine to 36 pieces, respectively.

The U-Pick honeybell season runs until the end of February.

For more information, call (813) 645-3256 or visit dooleygroves.com.

Honeybells help Ruskin's Dooley Groves ring in a new beginning 01/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 3:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Irish 31 brings flair, flavor to Wiregrass

    Business

    WESLEY CHAPEL — Irish 31 Pub House & Eatery opened its fifth location at The Shops at Wiregrass earlier this month.

    hillsevbiz072117: Irish 31 has opened at the Shops at Wiregrass with a warm, wood decor. Photo courtesy of Irish 31.
  2. Family fun featured at Lutz-area ice cream shop

    Business

    LUTZ — For Joe Schembri, ice cream reminds him of fun times he spent with his family as a child.

    hillsevbiz072117: Joe Schembri has opened the Ice Dreamery in Lutz. Photo courtesy of Joe Schembri.
  3. Clean Eatz offers low-cal options in South Tampa

    Business

    Inside Clean Eatz, almost everything is under 500 calories.

    Clean Eatz will offer healthy dining options in South Tampa. Photo courtesy of Clean Eatz.
  4. Salon brings a Parisian experience to Tampa

    Business

    A new salon in International Plaza, opened by French women Geraldine Jousseau and Estelle Mattingly, takes clients on a trip to Paris.

    Le Studio Paris offers a variety of salon services in International Plaza. Photo courtesy of Le Studio Paris.
  5. Ratings service Nielsen begins tracking live TV consumption on Hulu, YouTube

    Retail

    TV ratings service Nielsen will begin tracking how many people watch network TV on YouTube and Hulu to gauge how many viewers broadcast networks have through streaming, the company announced Tuesday.

    Nielsen, a ratings company, is monitoring how many viewers watch live TV on Hulu and YouTube to get a better sense of overall viewership. | [AP]