Strong winds ripped a heavily laden branch from one of my orange trees in January 2016 and its heady aroma was purely delicious!
After pruning the damaged limb to help it heal faster, I plucked the fruit and gave it a good wash before bringing it in, hoping it was ripe enough. By the way, citrus trees have wicked thorns! Be sure to use caution when working in or around them.
There’s no mistaking the heavy, oily skin of citrus. This skin provides moisture holding protection from its subtropical origins. Hailing from Southeast Asia and Australian, modern citrus fruits evolved from small berries found on pummelo, citron and mandarin orange trees. Crossing these three ancestors in different ways has led to the creation of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangelos, kumquats and dozens of other variations.
How to grow citrus
Citrus trees and shrubs grow easily in the Bay Area. They can be put in the ground or grown in containers. They prefer well drained soil and as much sun as you can provide. Since the fruit is very heavy, it is a good idea to protect them from heavy winds. Citrus trees can produce for 50-100 years, so use care when selecting a site. Be sure to feed and water your citrus regularly for maximum production.
One-year old trees should be given 1/10 of a pound of nitrogen each year, while mature trees will need approximately 1-1/2 pounds. These amounts should be divided into three separate feedings in April, June, and August. If your trees are stressed by drought, you may want to spread those feedings out, using lighter amounts during the growing season, February through May. Blood meal is an excellent source of nitrogen, without all the fillers.
Dumping too much water on your navel orange tree can leading to splitting. Split citrus are usually not ripe enough to eat but they provide the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and other pests. Like mummies, they should be discarded as soon as they are seen.
Knowing when to harvest your citrus can be tricky. Lemons and limes have distinct colors when they ripen, but Valencia oranges may still have a greenish tint to the skin when they are ripe. The only reliable way to tell if your fruit is ripe is to taste it. Unlike many other fruits, citrus does not continue ripening once they are removed from the tree. The best place to store your citrus is on the tree. If you do pick more fruit than you can use (or a branch breaks, dumping two dozen oranges in your basket), you can store them for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator. You can also treat yourself with some fresh squeezed orange juice or a lemon drop! Personally, I grated the zest from two oranges over some sliced beef, juiced four oranges, and stirred in some corn starch, soy sauce, ginger and a pinch of Ghost Pepper for a delicious Spicy Orange Beef Stir-fry.
Once established, citrus trees are pretty rugged. Here are some common citrus pests:
Citrus trees are heavy producers. A mature tree can produce up to 300 oranges a year. Do the math and that comes out to over 130 pounds of oranges! If you find yourself swimming in citrus, here are some fun uses for lemons:
• Remove fish smell from hands
• Neutralize alkalinity from masonry work or Burning Man gear
• Combine with salt to clean copper
• Apply to stains on fabric and leave in the sun
• Grind up peels in the garbage disposal for a fresh scent
• Rub lemon on mold and it disappears!
• Make your own invisible ink!
Do you have any good ideas for using citrus? Share them here!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!