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….
As this is the last week of 2020, I thought I would do one last look of the current state of the garden. Citrus and greens is the theme.
In the main in-ground garden space, the only things still growing are mustard greens and kale. They’re looking okay…the mustard greens are doing better than the kale. I can cut a few leaves to add to a bowl of soup, but it’s not a lot. I hope they’ll put on some more growth once we get more daylight.
As you saw on Sunday, though, we have some citrus ripening.
The navel orange tree…
….and the blood orange tree!
The blood orange tree, while not quite ripe yet, is loaded with fruit. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the garden is just underneath the blood orange tree, and as I was watering the garden this summer, I’m sure the blood orange was also getting a good drink this summer.
(Not pictured: limes and Meyer lemons, still producing.)
Besides the citrus trees, there’s not much to look at in the garden at this time, but I’m optimistic that by December 2021 I’ll have more to show you!
I always thought citrus where in season in the winter. Apples are in season in the fall, berries in the spring and summer, and oranges in the winter, right? When I was a kid, my mom’s aunt and uncle, who lived in Florida sent us a box of grapefruit and oranges every Christmas.
Then I moved to California in July.
The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard was full of ripe lemons. Huh?
I’ve never lived in a place where citrus grew outdoors before, and I hadn’t really thought to consider why citrus’s peak season should be in the winter….or if that’s even true….maybe it’s all a marketing ploy to get people to buy oranges in the winter?
What I’ve observed in the few months I’ve lived here:
The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard had ripe fruit when I arrived. We’ve picked a lot of the fruit, and there doesn’t seem to be new fruit growing. Unlike plum or cherry trees, which drop their fruit when ripe, the lemons stay on the tree for a very long time.
The lime tree started with no fruit in July, produced flowers and then ripe fruit pretty quickly thereafter. The fruit was ready to pick in October.
The navel and blood orange trees started with no fruit on them in July, and have since grown several oranges that are nearly ready to harvest – possibly ready to harvest in December.
Most fruit on citrus trees in this area seem to be ripening now and will be ready to harvest in the coming weeks. However, in just about any month, I could usually find at least some sort of citrus (lemons, kumquats, etc) somewhere in Palo Alto.
According to google, it’s true that oranges tend to ripen in winter, but that doesn’t generalize that to all citrus. Each type of citrus – lemons, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, etc – has it’s own unique growing requirements, bloom time, ripening time. Some citrus can even produce fruit multiple times a year, or all year round.
Let’s take Meyer lemons: Different sources give slightly different information. One version says that they have two main bloom times – early spring and fall, and the fruit can take up to 6 months to ripen. Another take on the Meyer lemon is that Meyer lemons are really only available Dec-Feb. (I know this not to be true based on my experience this summer.) A third source said Meyer lemon trees can produce up to four crops per year. And lastly, another source says they can flower and produce fruit all year round. So, in summary, Meyer lemons may or may not have “a season.”
Eureka lemons, on the other hand (which I learned about back in March), are known to produce lemons all year round. This is one of the reasons most of the lemons you find in the store are Eureka lemons. Eureka lemons are, thus, always “in season.”
Similar to Meyer lemons, I see conflicting references for limes. Some sources say fall (August – December), while others say summer (May – October). I’m inclined to believe the first source (based on my limited experience).
Grapefruit and oranges, however, according to nearly all sources, have one main crop each year, which typically ripens in the winter-spring (December-ish to April-ish).
I found this chart from Friend’s Ranch that I think is helpful to visualize when different fruit is in season. It’s odd however, that, according to this chart, grapefruit is a summer fruit. Hmmm…. As my experience with Meyer lemons has taught me, take these dates with a grain of salt.
Whatever their true seasons are, I’m lucky I get to experience living in a place where citrus is grown locally and abundantly.
I blinked and now, I’m writing my 100th post for this blog.
I don’t have many readers. Most of you are friends and family. I was expecting that, of course. Since I’m such a novice gardener, and since I don’t even really have a proper space or equipment for gardening (as a temporary nomad due to residency/fellowship training), it is hard to imagine that anyone would find what I post to be particularly interesting, but maybe some people out there can relate to my situation or can learn something along with me. Rather than waiting until I have a “real” garden to start documenting it, I’ve chosen to start documenting now.
In the past (almost) 6 months, since my first post on March 17th, my life has changed quite a bit. I went from containers in an apartment and a Community Garden and Orchard in Seattle’s Zone 8b to a room in a house with a small backyard and a small space for an in-ground garden in Palo Alto’s Zone 9b. The world shut down (COVID), I finished residency, moved to a new state, and started a fellowship. In the midst of all of that, I’ve managed to document a few small projects, including….
….and learning more about the plants I see around me.
I’m surprised that I have been able to stick to a regular posting schedule with work being so busy, but what I’m most surprised by is how much I’ve enjoyed creating this blog. I’m currently studying for pathology boards, which I will take in early/mid November. After that is over (fingers crossed I pass), I’ll have a bit more free time, and I’m planning to spend that time on this site. Many more posts are to come!
Dad has been plantsitting most of the houseplants I had in my Seattle apartment. When I visited him, I was able to check on them. They’re doing well for the most part. Because I know that you are all dying to know what happened to the Meyer lemons that I grew from seed last spring….
Here they are!
They are all growing really well, and have put on one or two new leaves each. They could probably be bumped up in pot size, but I’m going to wait until spring to do that because I don’t imagine they’ll put in much growth over fall and winter.
For comparison, here is what the plants looked like when I moved out of my Seattle apartment:
The photos aren’t great, but I can definitely tell that they’ve grown. Just you wait until the Spring 2021 Meyer Lemon Update…
The lime tree is looking pretty good and producing a lot of fruit…
….but Keith noticed that some of the leaves are starting to curl.
They’re also getting kind of of blotchy.
Lastly, we found a couple of these insects.
After doing some research, I think this is leaf miner damage, but the bug doesn’t look like a leaf miner bug, does it? I’m really not sure what this is. Keith thought it was aphids at first, and then we thought spider mites, and then we came up with leaf miner. I texted Sue from the Seattle garden group and she and John think it’s a mealy bug…. I don’t think that’s right either.
Did you know that prior to becoming “Silicon Valley” the Bay Area used to be called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight?” Apparently, it got this name because of all of the fruit orchards in the area. In the 1930s, San Jose, which is just south of Palo Alto, was the world’s largest cannery and dried fruit packing center. El Camino Real (a major highway through Palo Alto that connects San Diego with San Francisco) used to a a dirt road line with orchard trees between Palo Alto and San Jose.
Although there aren’t many orchards left in the immediate area, fruit trees are not infrequently seen. The plum and peach season seems to have just ended, and we’re starting to get into pears and apples. Fall is coming! But some citrus (like lemons) are also ripe, which confuses me.
There’s a map of Stanford’s campus that identifies all of the fruit trees in the area. When Nate visited me, we tried to find as many as we could.
At firs we weren’t having much luck…the campus was pretty, but the first few fruit trees we tried to find weren’t where the map said they would be.
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.
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.