Last weekend, I volunteered for Village Harvest again. This time we harvested oranges from a massive orchard in downtown San Jose. It’s a commercial orchard that, I believe, has been owned by the same family for forever. It’s a vestige of the orchards that populated this area before the tech boom.
I was told that we’re harvesting from this orchard because they are not able to sell their oranges “because of a virus.” Apparently, there is an orange tree “virus” that has infected many of the trees in Florida, and has now been identified Southern California. In order to contain the virus, this orchard cannot sell its oranges where they normally would….or something like that. I’m not too clear on the story, and I didn’t ask questions.
(Side note: There were fig trees interspersed with the orange trees.
They were the largest fig trees I have ever seen. Quite beautiful.)
Suffice it to say, there were a lot of oranges to be picked.
We didn’t use ladders or pickers for this harvest; we just picked the fruit we could reach with out hands from the ground. There was plenty of it! Also, these oranges were so ripe, they came off the tree very easily. This harvest was the exact definition of low-hanging fruit.
We collected 18,000 lbs of oranges, and we only covered a fraction of the orchard.
We, of course, got to take home “seconds.” I filled three big bags with oranges.
I turned some of them into marmalade.
I followed roughly the same recipe as last time, but I didn’t bother to measure things out. I think my last batch of marmalade was better. I still have tons of oranges left, so I can always try again. Does anyone have any other orange recipes??
I also looked into this “virus” that’s been infecting orange trees…. stay tuned for more on that later….
I have to admit: Nate is driving the citrus-propagation train. He has lemons and kumquats and – I think – Meyer lemons and clementines. I also gave him some of my blood orange seeds to try to grow as well. Compared to my two measly lemon trees, his citrus plant collection is much more extensive in numbers. But these plants are slow growing. His biggest lemon trees, which have been growing for about one and a half years are not quite a foot tall.
As for myself, I haven’t jumped onto the citrus-propagating train quite so whole-heartedly. I’m a skeptic, and I have a few questions…
First of all, I’m not so sure the trees will actually produce fruit. I’ve been told that if you plant, say, an apple seed, it’s not a clone of the parent and will likely never bear fruit, or if it does, the fruit won’t taste as good.
Another concern I have is how tall the plants will get. We don’t have space outside to plant these trees, nor do we live in the right climate for citrus to grow outside. If the lemon trees aren’t able to reach their full mature height, will they still produce fruit?
Let’s do some research….
The internet is confusing. Many sites, including gardeningknowhow.com, told me that lemon trees planted from seed won’t necessarily produce fruit (“However, trees produced via seed are not carbon copies of the parent and may take five or more years to fruit, with the resulting fruit generally inferior to those of the parent.”)
But according Plant Parenting (and confirmed by other reputable sources), many citrus varieties are actually apomictic, which means they form seeds asexually, and thus the seeds are genetic clones of the parent trees. (Side note: apomixis is apparently rare in the world of crop plants, and only seen in tropical plants like mangos and citrus.)
In regard to the size of the trees, according to (seemingly-reputable) sources on theinternet, the most common types of lemons in the grocery store are Lisbon Lemons and Eureka Lemons, which account for 90% of the lemons we see in store. The Bearss Lemon is a variety more commonly used in commercial lemon products. Lastly, we see Meyer Lemons in the grocery store, but these aren’t really lemons (I’ll talk about that more later).
Lisbon Lemons originally came from a Portuguese variety of lemon that was then cultivated in Australia and finally made its way to the US in the mid-1800s. Lisbon lemon trees, like essentially all lemons, can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and 10. They are drought tolerant and pretty productive, which is why growers like them. They can grow up to 30 feet tall.
The Eureka Lemon is a native of Los Angeles, California. The tree is less thorny than the Lisbon lemon, and is everbearing, which makes also it quite attractive to growers, but it is not quite as hardy and vigorous as the Lisbon Lemon. This tree reportedly grows up to 20 feet tall.
If you buy a lemon tree from a nursery, you’ll likely have the option to buy a Eureka or Lisbon lemon tree grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, so that you can grow a smaller tree. In addition, certain rootstock may convey more vigor to the tree. True dwarf rootstock comes from the Flying Dragon Orange, an orange that is supposedly edible, but sour, and grows about 6 feet tall. Semi-dwarf rootstock would give you a tree that wants to be 15-20 feet tall.
A Meyer Lemon is actually a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin. It originated from China, but was named after Frank N. Meyer, a man who the USDA sent over to China in the early 1900s to bring plant new and interesting plant species. The tree is naturally on the smaller side: 10-15 feet tall when mature.
Most kumquats are also naturally smaller, growing up to 15 feet tall. A standard blood orange tree seems to want to reach a similar height of 10-15 feet tall. (All of the mature tree heights I give are based on a compilation of a variety of websites; each one says something slightly different, but the numbers I give seems to be about the average.)
With all of these trees, if we keep them in containers, they will grow slower and will not grow as large as if they were planted in the ground, but they will eventually outgrow the largest pot we can put them in.
My next question about growing lemons from seed was whether the tree will produce fruit before they reach their mature size. Laura from GardenAnswer grew a standard variety of Meyer Lemon, which she says wanted to grow 13-15’, and I was surprised to see it produced about 10 lemons when it was only a few feet tall!
Although she planted is a Meyer lemon, which is naturally smaller than a Lisbon or Eureka Lemon, this gives me hope that in 5 (or 10) years, we will see fruit on the citrus trees that we’re planting.
Laura’s advice for growing lemons in containers is to keep them on the dry side (allow them to almost, but not quite, dry out completely between watering) and to give them as much bright sunlight as possible (8-12 hours minimum, south-facing window). She recommended planting the trees in generic potting soil if planting in a terracotta pot, which dries out faster, or, if planting in a plastic pot, using cactus potting soil, which has a bit more drainage than traditional potting soil.
In one of her later videos, she collects seeds from her Meyer Lemons to try growing more lemon trees.
She just plunked the seeds straight from the fruit into potting soil and covered it with a cloche to keep the humidity in. This is similar to my set up.
It will be fun to see how Laura’s lemon trees do! We’ll be harvesting lemons and oranges in no time!
I kid. I couldn’t find a good source for this information, but some people on the internet say it can take 3-6 or 5-10 years for the plant to produce fruit. Hmmm….patience is not my strong suit.
Well, that’s all I have for you today, but be sure to check back in with me in 2025, and I’ll let you know how it’s going.