In the valley of the River Neretva, between Ploče, Metković and Opuzen, there is a wide area covered with lush citrus fruit orchards. Due to its extremely rich and fertile soil, the delta of this river converted into agricultural land is often described as “Croatia’s California”, which is a title that the region does not hold without reason.
Namely, over the whole Neretva area there grow more than a million mandarin plants, which at the beginning of September begin to ripen and their fruits flood the Croatian markets and shops, and there are also other related citrus fruits and crops which the hardworking people of the Neretva succeed to grow over the numerous plantations. However, it is the mandarins that have become the trademark of the Neretva valley and the main source of income for its inhabitants, and the plant arrived in these regions in the first half of the 20th century. More precisely, the unshiu variety of mandarin seedlings arrived there in 1933 from faraway Japan as a gift from the Japanese consul who traded with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and over time they have, due to their yield, completely replaced the vineyards which were growing there at that time.
It is believed that the mandarins alone provide up to 60,000 tons of fruit annually which are then distributed throughout the country and provide a necessary dose of vitamins to Croatian citizens, as well as to many tourists. In doing so, the Croatian cultivators have dedicated themselves to the planting of various sorts of mandarins so that the harvest season starts at the beginning of autumn and lasts all the way to December.
Ten or so main sorts are chiefly grown in the orchards, from the earliest ichumare, which ripens by the middle of September, all the way to the unshiu owari, with which the mandarin season closes in December.
The attractive look of the green plantations full of orange coloured mandarins is slowly but surely attracting a greater and greater number of organised tourists who come from the surrounding counties to try their hand in the mandarin harvest, finding out something about the cultivation itself and leaving happy with bags full of juicy fruit which they have picked themselves.
The mandarin harvest itself is a special procedure because the fruits of this citrus cannot be simply pulled from the stems. Instead, they have to be carefully cut with clippers so that the mandarin remains on the stem, fresh and full of tasty juice. In fact, the mandarin harvest has become an interesting tourist activity in this region, as well as an excellent way of promoting Croatian farmers and the local produce.