By Kate Quesada
A lot has changed in Hillsborough County in the last 50 years, but one thing that has remained consistent is the Houghtaling family and Dooley Orange Groves.
Located in Ruskin, Dooleys has been handed down for three generations offering citrus U-pick, a retail store with fresh squeezed orange juice and fruit shipping all over the United States and many parts of Canada.
The business started as a U-pick location in 1967 by Julius and Edith Houghtaling and is now owned by their grandson, Mike Houghtaling and his wife Diane, who began working on the property as teenagers 45 years ago.
“Our family members have always worked hard to give customers a great product,” said Diane, who met Mike in 1971 when she was in the eleventh grade at East Bay High School. “Grandma Dooley started sharing her delicious fruit with friends and neighbors in the 1960s, and she worked to build the business the old fashioned way, family-run, turning customers into friends.”
When Mike started worked at the groves, the farm owned 80 acres of land, 40 acres of that hosting the 3,000 citrus trees. The farm now boasts 8,500 citrus trees, with 6,500 of those being the well-loved Honeybell variety which customers travel from miles to pick. But it has not been an easy road. In 2005 the groves were completely wiped out by citrus canker, and it took five years for Mike and his team to replant. The recent threat of Hurricane Irma also scared the Houghtalings, although they were lucky to weather the storm almost unscathed.
“We actually went out and said goodbye to the trees as the storm approached,” said Diane. The couple still lives on the property as many of their family members have done before them.
Citrus picking season starts in November at Dooley Groves and runs through April when the growing season starts. The farm offers Sugarbelle oranges and Christmas Tangerines in November and December, Honeybells from January to March, Tango Seedless Tangerines in February and March and Ortaniques and Honey Tangerines in March and April. During season, U-pick is open every day from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. with tours taking place every half hour.
“Each group is accompanied by a guide who can tell the pickers the history of our groves and give them information about the citrus industry in addition to helping them find the perfect fruit to pick,” said Diane. “We also like people to learn about the animals in our area and the nature corridor that runs through the property.”
Dooley provides clippers and baskets for pickers, and it is recommended that visitors wear enclosed shoes and long pants. After picking, the fruit is weighed and customers are charged by the pound for the produce.
In addition to the famous fresh squeezed orange juice, the market stores offers a wide variety of local products from honey to marmalade and there are various options for fruit shipping available in store, online and over the phone.
For more information, visit www.dooleygroves.com or call (800) 522-6411.