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.
Here is a lemony recipe I wrote for Mason Dixon Knitting, SHEET 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
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