Saturday, October 23, 2010

Counting Lemons Before They're Hatched

The Meyer lemon tree I ordered early this year is blooming.  Actually, it first bloomed during the summer, and while I noticed it, there was a ton of other garden stuff occupying my mind.  So much so that I forgot that lemons need to be hand pollinated in my part of the world, since whatever insect normally performs the service for lemons doesn't live where I do.  When I remembered that I was supposed to be a proxy in plant sex, it was too late, and I was sad to see that no fruit had been set.

So I was pretty psyched to notice little buds all over the tree when it was time to pull it inside for the winter.  The tree was giving it another go!  Now I'm servicing the blooms once a day with a tiny paintbrush.  They are amazingly fragrant and sweet-smelling.  Being a novice at sex surrogacy for lemon trees, I'm not too sure of my technique.  Do lemon blossoms like it rough or delicate?  Are they chaste (prefer pollen from the same blossom), or lascivious (pollen from as many blossoms as possible, thank you)?  I'm hoping that what I lack in finesse and experience I can make up in diligence.  Also, I'm pampering the tree with good nutrition by regular feedings with worm tea from our worm bin.

It's pretty thrilling to look at all the buds on the tree and imagine that even half of them may turn into lemons.  Which reminds me of the old adage about unhatched chickens.  Still, it's hard not to be a bit giddy about the prospect of homegrown Meyer lemons.  It also makes me think about seasonality.  I think lemons normally ripen in late winter.  So strange to think of a fruit, especially the lemon, ripening at that time of year.  I associate lemons so much with lemonade and summer drinks.  Just goes to show you how out of touch we are with the food we eat.  Lemons in winter?  Guess that'll mean lemon curd. 

I'll definitely let you know if we get any fruit from the tree.  In the meantime, if any of you have lemon trees I'd love to hear any tips you have for keeping them happy and productive, and what time of year you get a harvest.


meemsnyc said...

I have a meyer lemon and lime tree and they have yet to produce fruit. I'm so jealous yours is blooming!! I'll have to cross my fingers that mine will bloom soon.

TechChik said...

One of the other blogs I read has quite a few posts about Meyer lemon trees, and there's a fair bit of info. Check out:A Growing Tradition

Anonymous said...

Oooh, enjoy. Their perfume is amazing. I just loooovvvve them.

My poor lemon is outside in the cold. It arrived with scale insect, and I just could not get rid of them, so I'm freezing it to death. I can't decide if I should try one more time or not, this is lemon # 2 and from this one I did not even get one lemon.

Good luck!

Allison at Novice Life said...

How exciting! I think I might like to try my hand at one of those trees! Keep us posted on the progress.

Diana said...

Hey! It's so great when they bloom isn't it? And even greater that they're inside by then and the smell can fill the house. No wonder nobility in the Netherlands used to have orangeries, big glasshouses filled just with citrus - can you imagine the fragrance of 100 lemon trees?

Anyway, don't worry too much about how you're doing it. Any touch with the paintbrush should be fine, and will contain pollen from a bunch of different flowers since you're using the same brush for all of them. I used to just use my finger as I could never be bothered to get the paintbrush, and it worked just fine. The tree will set tons of fruit and then drop nearly all of them later, as it decides which it can actually support.

Hazel said...

I can't help you with lemon sex surrogacy, but when your bumper lemon harvest happens, could you freeze the juice, or a cordial concentrate ready for lemonade weather? There's only so much lemon curd even my DH can eat, and it doesn't keep that long when I do manage to hide some from him.

I haven't been able to find a UK supplier of Meyer lemons yet, but fingers crossed for your crop.

Phoebe said...

I LOVE meyer lemons! Im so dissapointed when friends give me lemons but they are not Meyers! I find that planting flowering annuals nearby or lavender is a great way to encourage pollinators.. Its frustrating when fruit doesnt set!

Leigh said...

Hmm. I've had my Meyer lemon for over a year and still nary a bloom. I'll have to check out the link TechChik recommends. With potted plants, I find each one has it's own elusive sweet spot. Obviously the front stoop isn't that spot for my lemon!

Kate said...

meemsnyc, how big is yours? Ours is maybe 2.5' tall, and looks in good shape. Our lime tree isn't quite that big at three years old. It has yet to bloom.

Techchik, yes, I remember coming across a post from Thomas on lemons a while back. Thanks for reminding me.

Ali, I live in fear of scale. I'm going to have to get some tanglefoot and paint the trunks of both my citrus plants. So far, they look fine. But uh! Scale would totally suck.

Alison, I recommend it. And yes, I'll post on any citrus harvest. Trust me, I'll be too excited to let it pass without notice.

Diana, thanks for the reassurance. I'll try not to despair when most of the fruits drop off.

Hazel, thanks for the good wishes. I could freeze the juice I suppose. Freezer space is at a premium, but I don't expect I'd get that much volume. I find that if I keep lemon curd in the freezer, it goes very well with ice cream!

Phoebe, we keep our citrus trees on our mostly shady porch most of the year, so there aren't any plants too close by to attract pollinators. And right now there's not much blooming out there that might incidentally attract notice to these blooms. So I'll carry on with the hand pollinating for now.

Leigh, our Meyer lemon was purchased as a three-year old plant early this spring. So we sort of bought ourselves out of a few years of waiting, I suspect. Good luck with yours!

Dani said...

Hi Kate

Seems like a lot of people have scale. We had it too, and I found that spraying with the following mixture helped - what you're trying to do is make the plant unappetising for other insects and smother the scale. Repeat weekly, or after rain until the scale / ants are no more :)

Aphids are commonly brought to the plant via hitching a ride on the back of ants. Get rid of the ants = aphids will not invade the tree.

Ant Killer : (this is safe for humans and other vertebrates - sorry - don't mean to plagarize anyone else work, but I can't remember where I got this recipe)

1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 T yeast

Mix together. Puddle mixture in lids (placed upside down with the goop in the middle) and place the lids in the ant's paths. They will almost literally toss down anything they are doing and flock to it. They will suck all the moisture out add a couple drops of water in the center to help them clean up. It may start to look white because most of the molasses is gone, but that's ok, you really only wanted the molasses to attack the ants anyway and once they've found it they have make a trail to it. They take it back to the colony and feed the sweet nectar to everyone they see, even the queen. Put new solution out as needed until they slow to a trickle or stop. You've then killed the whole colony. But it will reinvigorate itself, so stay vigilant. Store excess in the freezer.

Then to get rid of the Aphids:
Chop one part chillies, one part garlic (no need to peel - just chop) and boil with 4 parts water for 10 minutes. Cool and strain. Add 1 tsp liquid dish soap / liter - this helps the mixture stick. Spray on affected areas of the tree.

Bees and ladybirds polliinate the lemon flowers - are there no bees / ladybirds in Pennsylvania?

Good luck.


Dani said...

Sorry Kate

Kept getting an error message when I tried to send my comment - didn't mean to duplicate it.


Kate said...

Dani, no worries. I've deleted the duplicates. Thanks much for the anti-aphid and ant treatment. I'll tuck it away somewhere in case I need it.

Jeri said...

Since you're on the subject of lemons, thought I'd take this opportunity to thank you for the link to the delicious lemon curd recipe you posted a few months ago. It was unbelievable! And your recipe for the fusilli with kale and creamy tomato sauce is now among our favorites.

Mitzi G Burger said...

The chilli spray is a good idea for keeping bugs and grubs off plants generally, and one day when I grow a lemon tree, I'll be on the lookout for the dreaded scale.

In my local op shop (thrift store), there's usually a basketful of lemons with a sign "lemons, 10c each". A nice and charitable idea, if you ever have excess produce.

Kate said...

Jeri, thank you; that's very kind. It's been said that good chefs just know which recipe to steal. I think I'm a pretty good recipe thief.

Mitzi, when I lived in California I would sometimes find baskets hung over the outsides of people's fences with free lemons in them. Sometimes the tree wasn't even visible from the sidewalk. But I loved the openhandedness of those gardeners.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Weird. I thought my backyard Meyer lemon was just pollinated by the usual suspects -- bees, flies and hummingbirds.

Kate said...

Lisa and Robb, it very well might be. But this Meyer lemon happened to be indoors in late October, so I had to provide the services that nature usually takes care of. Won't be too long before the citrus trees go back outside for the warm months of the year.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Indeed, our lemon blooms wildly in the winter. Not so great for the mid Atlantic region!