Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Tart Bounty: Sweet!

A lemon from my own tree!

Seven years ago, inspired by an article on citrus growing for black-thumb types, I planted a gallon-sized Meyer lemon tree in a clay pot. When the tree outgrew that pot, I transplanted it into a bigger one. When it outgrew the second, I dug a hole and planted the little tree in the backyard.

Roughly two years after I brought the tree home, it produced two lemons. After that, nothing.

During Houston's rare hard freezes, I covered it with a bed sheet. In early spring, I gave it fish- emulsion. One year, its leaves yellowed, and I sprinkled Epsom salts around it.

Eventually, the tree reached five feet in height, but produced no more fruit.

A gardener friend told me to dig it up and toss it in the compost pile. "It's barren. Get yourself another one. Time to move on."

Doesn't every woman shrink when she hears the word "barren?" That word didn't describe my tree with pretty leaves that ranged in color from spring green to emerald.

I never got around to digging up the tree--and there was no place to toss it anyway, since I'd never established a compost pile and wasn't about to set a pretty tree on the curb for yard-waste collection day.

Another couple of years went by, including the drought of 2011. Last winter, we might have had two nights of below-freezing temperatures, and I forgot to cover the lemon tree.

This past spring, Hubs and I put down many, many cubic feet of mulch because we were going out of town, and I was certain the absence of weeds would convince would-be thieves someone was home. 

In March, the tree blossomed prettily, but it's blossomed before. I didn't get my hopes up.

The blossoms turned into green buds, but I went about my business and pretended not to notice. 

It's now November, and sixteen big-as-baseball lemons hang from the tree. ( Make that fourteen; I picked two.) 

Sunkist has nothing to fear, and Houstonians with lemon trees would consider my harvest paltry, but I'm excited. 

"Our first crop," Hubs said.

Last night, we dined on salmon with smoked paprika and lemon, plus orzo pasta tossed with lemon, olive oil, feta, spinach, and mint. This weekend, I'll make lemonade--and more of that lemony orzo

Once upon a time, pumpkin pie and spiced cider signaled fall. This year, it's lemon mojitos and lemon chicken

What's been your biggest success in the garden? How'd you use your bumper crop?


Jennette Marie Powell said...

Sounds like your lemon tree just needes to chill! We grow tomatoes and hot peppers. Salsa time!

Lark Howard said...

What a wonderful story, Pat! I love anything lemon and it's even better when they come from your own tree. My husband has practiced benign neglect with a dozen or so orchid plants that cheerfully bloom when we least expect it.

I have a fairly green thumb when I decide to grow anything, which is almost never. One year I planted basil and had a forest of basil bushes nearly 5 feet tall. I dried it, froze it, made every recipe in the book calling for basil even a basil liquor which was quite lovely. When I ran out of other ideas, everyone I knew got jarred pesto whether they wanted it or not.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette! So you think the trick was to leave the tree uncovered when the temperature dipped? I can do that!

I love salsa. The conventional wisdom here in Houston is that backyard growers need a degree from Texas A&M to grow tomatoes successfully. Good for you!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You convinced me, Lark. I'm going to try basil in the spring. Yours grew five feet tall? Too bad green thumbs aren't catching because II've got a mixed record when it comes to growing things. Oh, but I so love pesto.

Sheila Seabrook said...

How exciting for you, Pat. All of that waiting and patience paid off. Okay, no bounty here, but my mom and dad used to head to Uma every winter and every spring, they arrived hope with a pile of lemons. They would then proceed to make the sourest lemon pies on this planet ... heck, let's just say the universe! My husband and I would eat the pie out of politeness, but our boys loved it. To this day, every time I mention grandma's lemon pie, the boys perk up. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they love these pies so much. I'll go to my grave wondering just that. :) Fortunately, if mom sends home a lemon pie, I don't have to throw it out because they boys will gobble it up.

Christine said...

Wow! Mine was pear avacados in Zambia. You should have seen those suckers - huge! But then we did nothing to make it happen.

Mother nature is tricky and sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Louise Behiel said...

lovley tory, Pat - it reminds me to leave things be and stop 'helping' them along. I don't garden. too much hard work for me and here in Calgary, we can grow crabapples but not much else on a tree. enjoy the lemonade.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sheila,
Like your sons. I like lemony things so tart my eyes water. Now, thanks to Jennette, I also have salsa on the brain. When I first moved to Texas, I went for mild salsa. Today, my taste veers to something between medium and hot. I guess our food likes are determined partly by nature and partly by nurture.

In your family, the zest (sorry!) for lemons must skip a generation.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Christine,
I'm about to Google pear avocados. They sound luscious.

Mother Nature is very tricky--and that's a nice way to put it. She giveth and taketh away.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Louise,
I, too, have to learn to stop helping along things--and people.

Hey, remember the day you reported the temp in Calgary had dropped to 40 below? What overwinters when that happens?

I lift my glass of lemonade to you!

Coleen Patrick said...

What a great story! Late in life lemon parents! :)
My husband is the gardener around here. He plants and harvests, then I cook. We had loads of tomatoes this summer, and still have quite a bit of rosemary--great for potatoes!

Lynette M Burrows said...

I have a tiny rose garden I've been trying to nurse through the drought -- And for at least two of the plants I'v succeeded: the last peace rose just bloomed and there's one more tiny yellow blossom on one of my bushes. Vegetable and fruit gardening are just to time intensive for me. Enjoy your lemons, Pat!

Lynette M Burrows said...

I have a tiny rose garden I've been trying to nurse through the drought -- And for at least two of the plants I'v succeeded: the last peace rose just bloomed and there's one more tiny yellow blossom on one of my bushes. Vegetable and fruit gardening are just to time intensive for me. Enjoy your lemons, Pat!

Sarah Andre said...

Oh, your lemon tree story is exactly the same as my lime tree story, Pat! Although after years of the same TLC-or-forgetting-to-cover-in-a-freeze care I achieved a lime this summer the size of a grape.

But it was a lime, by God!

I also have indoor NASA-invented Aerogrow machines and switch out growing herbs, lettuces, cherry tomatoes etc. All I do is keep the water filled (no soil) and everything thrives. Just planted new basil seedlings in one and lettuce in the other. They grow in abundance for about a year before the stalks get old and the plants look tired and I start over.

But I make a mean pesto!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
I envy you the tomatoes, but I, too, have rosemary. Isn't it great on potatoes. I also slather it and olive oil on the Thanksgiving turkey and use rosemary stalks as skewers for appetizers. I love the scent but one of my daughters hates it.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm glad your roses survived the drought, Lynette. I'm going to take that last peace rose as a good omen.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sarah,
Don't give up on that lime tree. Your mojito time will come.

That Aerogrow system is cool. Did I tell you how much I like pesto (hint, hint)?