Lemon Tree Very Pretty

Inspiration. You never know whence it will come.

Last January, my friend Colleen posted a photo of a bowl of bright Meyer lemons on Instagram with a story about a day spent making lemon shortbread and lemon zest ice cubes. The caption read the lemons were grown by our mutual friend and neighbor, Jennifer.

Jennifer has been growing citrus trees in middle Tennessee for five years. The trees summer in her backyard and are brought inside to her garage to winter-over. As soon as I saw the photo of the lemons I texted Jennifer to see if my husband and I could walk over to see her garage grove. All told she had fifteen plants: lots of lemons, a few limes, and one each of orange and tangerine.

The Meyer lemon trees were loaded with fruit. This photo was taken after the big harvest that sparked Colleen and Jennifer to spend the day making cookies for their neighbors.

Thus inspired, in late April, when local nurseries started stocking lemon trees, my husband bought two Meyer Lemons and two Mexican Key Limes.

The plants were only about ten inches tall.

Here they are on October 21 after he re-potted them for the second time. He said he fertilized them once in the fall with Miracle Grow plant food for acid-loving plants. Since we had a mild fall, he kept them outside until mid-November.

Here they are today in our unheated sun porch.

The bright, lemony, and, yes, happy fragrance of the flowers hits you when you first open the door. The smell is intoxicating.

The two lemon trees have about twenty dark green, unripe lemons and hundreds of buds; most are still closed. The lime trees are behind the lemon trees. They only have five small limes growing but have hundreds of tiny buds.

The question is, In the absence of bees or wind, how are these flowers going to get pollinated? I asked my husband, the keeper of the citrus trees, how this was getting accomplished. He said he periodically goes out to the porch and uses a Q-tip to hand pollinate the open flowers.

As a brief refresher, with flowers, the male reproductive part is called the stamen. It consists of a long, thin filament topped by a yellow pollen sack called an anther. The female reproductive part, the center tube, is called a pistil. On the tip of it is a sticky yellow stigma. In the photo, you can see the stigma is wet (it’s shiny). I wouldn’t be surprised if some flowers are being pollinated by gravity alone as the pollen grains drop from their anthers.

One Thing Led to Another

Henry David Thoreau wrote in The Succession of Forest Trees. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

On Christmas Eve I stopped by our friend’s house for a quick visit and was excited when 7th grader Simon and 8th grader Julius showed me a collection of sprouted seeds they had nurtured over the month. Why? Because it’s science and who doesn’t enjoy a front row seat to the wondrous moment in nature when a seedling pokes its head out of the dirt and its leaves begin to unfurl?!

Their labeled collection of sprouting seeds contained packages of seeds wrapped in wet paper towels and stored in clear plastic bags. To help the germination process along for the lemon seeds, the boys had split the hard seed shells open before placing them in the damp bags to sprout. They gave me a bag with four lemon seeds in it.

I kept the bag on the kitchen windowsill until January 6th when I planted the seeds in dirt. Here they are seven weeks after they were first placed in the bag to germinate.

Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree

It is worth mentioning there is a deciduous citrus plant that grows well in Nashville called a trifoliate orange tree, AKA a Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree. My Flying Dragon is three years old and has yet to set fruit. I’m hoping for fruit this summer. Per Wikipedia: “The fruits are very bitter, due in part to their poncirin content. Most people consider them inedible when fresh, but they can be made into marmalade. When dried and powdered, they can be used as a condiment.”

Germinating lemon seeds and pollinating lemon flowers have been fun winter pursuits while waiting for February 14th, the big day. Yup, that’s the time-honored date in our area to plant peas and thus begin the 2019 growing season! To learn more about starting a kitchen garden check out this page.

What to do with all those lemons?

Our favorite way to use a glut of lemons is to make Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies.

Another favorite is Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts.

DSC_1143.jpg

Here is a lemony recipe I wrote for Mason Dixon KnittingSHEET PAN SUPPER: LEMON CHICKEN

This post shows you how to quickly peel citrus: How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly.

And how about a nice citrus salad to tide us over while we wait for homegrown tomatoes? Grapefruit and Greens: A Refreshing Winter Salad 

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.  

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Thanksgiving Letter from the Neighborhood Squirrels

I am grateful for my friend, Carol Fike, who sent me an anonymous (at the time) Thanksgiving letter from the neighborhood squirrels who reside in my backyard. The squirrels ate every tomato (24 plants worth) in my garden while they were all still green. My frustration was well-documented on Instagram. When they finished with the tomatoes, they got started on and ate the starchy, green, cotton bolls.

Trying to figure out who sent this lovely, funny, thoughtful, letter, with a gift attached (from the squirrels), was the highlight of my week. Everyone needs a Carol in their life. Thanks and love you, Carol.

The squirrels were well-mannered; they carried their food to various tabletops around the yard before eating them.

Wishing all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thanksgiving Day Grace
Bless the food between us,
The home around us,
The family beside us,
and the love between us.

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops

The number one gardening question I’ve been asked lately by Instagram followers is, What cover crops are you growing? The short answer is buckwheat, crimson clover, and a brassica such as daikon radishes or turnips. The buckwheat will die off with the first frost, the brassica will wither away in the winter, and the crimson clover can be cut down in the spring.

The next question is, Why plant cover crops? Cover crops take up elements from the dirt, air, and rain and use them to nourish microorganisms in the soil. In the process, they prevent topsoil erosion, suppress weeds, and improve the availability of water in the soil. Vegetable garden soil should never be naked.

Look how pretty this cover crop, crimson clover, looks in the spring. The red flowers have the added bonus of attracting pollinators to the garden when there is not much else around to draw them in. This is especially important if you plan to plant peas on Valentine’s Day (Patriot’s Day if you live in the North). You will want pollinators around when the pea plants start to flower. Same goes for strawberries which flower around the same time.

A few weeks ago my husband and I attended the Southeast Biodynamic Regional Conference at Jeff Poppen’s farm in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. (Jeff is the host of Nashville Public Television’s The Barefoot Farmer.) It was a memorable weekend of education, community, and delicious field-to-table-meals. It was the kind of conference where twelve people officially register to attend and 150 show up … and it’s not a problem. The food, prepared by Chef Paulino Solorzano, never quit coming. The pulled pork, made from a pig that was raised on a farm that practiced biodynamic farming was divine. I am almost positive I can get my husband to attend again next year. [My husband just edited this post and mumbled, “Definitely going back.”]

This is a photo of Jeff Poppen, our leader and host, doing Jeff things like inoculating a compost heap with one of the biodynamic preparations he created on his farm. Farmers who practice biodynamic farming do so to bring health to the land and vitality to the food system or as Jeff puts it: to grow food of the highest quality.

Jeff has one of the oldest and largest organic farms in Tennessee. I read that on his website. If you asked Jeff, he would humbly say he “works with Nature instead of being at war with it.”

This is a photo of one of Jeff’s vegetable fields where he grows food for his CSA customers. He does not irrigate, add fertilizers, or use herbicides (“herbicides kill enzymes so biological processes can’t happen”). He also says things like, “insects are nature’s house cleaners and are our teachers — they tell us what issues we need to address in the soil.” The types of weeds that grow in our gardens also tell us about soil deficiencies.

Jeff grows produce that looks like this without irrigation or chemicals.

His soil is so rich and airy, it crumbles in your fingers like pie dough when you first mix the flour and fat together. It is so loose, even his weeds have long, flowing roots.

This is one of Jeff’s fields that have been put to bed for the winter. Guess what is growing? Buckwheat, crimson clover, and daikon radish. Jeff is the one who inspired me to start planting cover crops this fall when he repeatedly said, “your spring and summer crops are made before you ever plant them.” 

My biggest take away from Jeff, the one thing I could start doing in my small backyard farm right away, was to plant cover crops and never leave vegetable beds naked between harvestable crops again. With that in mind, I got busy.

My husband helped me clean up this summer vegetable bed the afternoon we returned home.

We cut the plants down and put them in the compost pile. We left their roots in the ground. We used a broad fork to jiggle the soil so air could get into the ground. Note to readers: my husband is wearing shoes:-)

I mixed clover, buckwheat, and daikon radish seeds and broadcast them in the beds. This is buckwheat. When you use buckwheat as a cover crop during the summer, be sure to cut it back before it goes to seed, unless you want lots of seedlings. I heard a great tip at an Herb Society of Nashville meeting: plant buckwheat between tomato plants. It attracts beneficial insects that eat aphids off of tomato leaves.

Here is an “after” picture of the garden.

This is the garden one week later. The buckwheat seeds sprouted in three days.

Here is a photo from yesterday. So much prettier than naked raised beds. The chickens love it, too.

Related Posts
Family Dirt
Morning Rounds in the Garden, April
Eulogy for a Chicken
Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard
The Volunteer Gardener An episode of Nashville Public Television filmed in my yard

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

The Volunteer Gardener

When I was ten, I planted my first packet of seeds in a thin strip of dirt bordering the back of our house. I remember asking my mother what germination meant. In my twenties, my husband and I grew vegetables on the roof and in the window boxes of our first apartment as newlyweds in downtown Boston.

When we bought our first house in Nashville, my husband built me a fenced-in vegetable garden. He used white picket fencing recovered from a neighbor’s backyard. As a transplanted New Englander, I felt so … Southern Living.

For Valentine’s Day, he borrowed a truck and went to a friend’s chicken farm to get me a load of chicken poop. Later, Mary Hance, a columnist for The Tennessean, wrote a story about it for her “Ms. Cheap” column, “Sometimes even chicken manure is a gift of love.” In 2018, re-using scrap wood and hauling in chicken poop is considered PC and falls under the category of “keeping stuff out of the landfill.” Back then, it was known as plain old saving money, and another example of my husband’s mantra for our children, “Be a problem solver, not a problem identifier.”

I thought about all of this as I watched this week’s episode of Volunteer Gardener [episode 2713], an educational gardening show on Nashville Public Television.  It was filmed in my backyard.

My friend, Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes was interviewed by the show’s host, Phillipe Chadwick, to talk about growing edible backyard spaces, Jeremy’s specialty. I’ve got to warn you, Jeremy’s passion for edible foodscapes is contagious! He gets booked up in April when folks get the urge to plant. Now is the time to call him to plan and build next year’s vegetable gardening space.

Here is a clip about how figs reproduce. It didn’t make the show but is a great example of how Jeremy inspires people to become curious and productive gardeners.

You will never look at the inside of a fig in the same way.

Thank you to Greta Requierme, producer of Volunteer Gardener, for bringing her crew to visit my garden and to my dear friend, Jeremy, for all the ways he inspires me to grow more food. Here is Jeremy’s mission statement from his website:

“Nashville Foodscapes connects people with their food source by growing food where people live. We achieve this by offering creative food solutions through landscaping. We create custom designs of our clients’ yards, homes, and living spaces allowing food to be grown in a way that pleases the eyes and taste buds: a fusion of aesthetics and function in a landscape.”

Yes, I adore him!

Related Stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.