By Amy Schechter

Looking for something enjoyable to do with the entire family? Break out your calendars and clear some time. Dooley Groves, Florida’s largest U-Pick Honeybell Grove, is open for business, and you will not want to miss it.

Over their 48 years of operation, the Houghtaling family, owners and operators of Dooley Groves, have amassed a superior expertise in citrus cultivation. Apart from delicious Honeybells, they specialize in growing Sugarbelles, Christmas Tangerines, Tango seedless Tangerines, Ortaniques, Honey Tangerines, Pineapple Oranges, Rio Red Grapefruits and Sunshine Lemons.

When visitors pull into the lot, it is obvious they are in for a treat. Besides the grove of over 8,500 trees, Dooley Groves boasts a Country Farm Market where visitors can glimpse behind the scenes as fruit is washed, sorted, packed and juiced. A firm believer in family values, Diane Houghtaling, who oversees the working farm with her husband, Mike, makes sure she or a member of the staff greets each visitor with a smile and a sample of cold, delightful, fresh-squeezed orange juice. She states, “My family always believed that you invite others into your home and make them feel as if they are home themselves.” And the atmosphere couldn’t be more welcoming. Family heirlooms and antiques decorate the walls, citrus perfumes the air, and customers have an enormous variety of raw local honey, marmalade and produce from which to choose.

You’ll want to peruse the country market and gift store afterward though, so you can head out into the grove hands free. It is U-Pick season, and everyone is sure to have a blast gathering the citrus fruits of the Houghtaling’s labors. Guests are invited on guided tours between November and April between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Groups leave every half-hour to 45 minutes dependent upon which fruit or fruits customers wish to gather. Long pants and closed-toed shoes are recommended. Baskets and wagons as well as rest stations are offered. There is also a special section of the grove reserved for those who may have trouble walking.

The U-Pick calendar is subject to Mother Nature. Currently, the grapefruit is sweetest and ripe for the picking, but Sugarbelles will be ready soon, and Honeybells are expected to be ripe in January and February. In late February and March, tangerines and ortaniques will be sweetening followed shortly after by Pineapple Oranges and Rio Red Grapefruits through April.

Can’t make the trip? Have family that could use a little sunshine over the holidays and chilly winter months? A variety of gift packages are available to ship all over the continental United States and Canada. Visit www.dooleygroves.com or place an order by phone by calling 1-800-522-6411. To reach the open air country market at Dooley Groves and inquire about U-Pick tours, call 645-3256. Dooley Groves is located at 1651 Stephens Rd. in Ruskin. Make sure to like them on Facebook and check out Diane’s famous Honeybell Pie Recipe at www.facebook.com/DooleyGroves. Dooley Groves is open during the citrus season from November through April from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Christmas.