David A. Bandel
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They say (who is "they" anyway?) when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. OK, well, it may not have been life, but on my farm I have several hundred lemon trees (and thousands of lemons). So I guess I should make lemonade.
Actually, what I have are called "Limon Persa", Persian Lemons. Most english-speakers, though, would call them Limes, this variety most likely Tahiti Limes. They're about the size of your fist, thin skin, and have a very pleasant smell, light green color, smooth texture, and a delicate taste. They make excellent lemonade (or limeade if you're so inclined). Just 10 of these "lemons", 2 cups of sugar (they're very sour, most might make that 2 1/2 to 3 cups of sugar) and a gallon of water. The whole family loves it. We must drink 10 gallons or more a week.
The trees are very prolific, producing hundreds of lemons each almost constantly. I have flowers, immature lemons, and lemons all at the same time. My biggest challenge has been keeping the trees thinned out and trimmed back to reduce the number of lemons while increasing quality and keeping the sheer number of lemons from breaking the branches.
What I do also is a pruning for production, clearing the center of the trees. These trees can get incredibly thick with branches and leaves. Unfortunately, while they look beautiful, full, and healthy, they produce little in that state. Once they have the center cut out and the longer branches thinned out and trimmed back, they give so many lemons it's amazing. It takes time to get the trimming right, and it has to be done almost constantly -- these trees are incredibly precocious and grow like weeds if let go (again, producing little fruit and of poor quality).
Proper fertilizing of the plants is also crucial. Apart from the standard 12-24-12, I've found that unless I also fertilize with the required microelements, the 12-24-12 isn't absorbed. Any doctor can tell you that the human body needs B-complex vitamins to absorb calcium. Same thing with plants needing the right microelements to absorb and use the nitrogen, phospohorus, and potassium in the fertilizer.
Actually, my biggest challenge is harvesting (this takes many hours) and marketing the lemons. In large quantity, these lemons sell for five cents each. Common lemons (limon criollo) sell for two cents. However, to get decent lemonade, you need 30 of these small criollos. So lemonade made from persas is cheaper -- but folks here appear unable to do the math preferring to buy the cheaper lemons and use more. Go figure.
I also have Guanabanas (Soursop in English, though why such a sweet, delicious fruit is so called, I don't know.) I also had and am starting to grow again, Maracuya (Passion Fruit). I found out my previous attempts with Maracuya didn't fair well because I didn't have the proper type of supports for this climbing vine. Someone more expert in this has advised me the best way to do it, so I am starting again. Will post results in a few months.
Meanwhile, I continue to wonder why the term lemon has such a negative connotation associated with it. My experience with lemons has been nothing if not very positive. And while the lemon tree song may be right in some senses (it smells very sweet, and is impossible to eat straight off the tree), it is incredibly aromatic and makes fantastic lemonade. You can give me lemons any day of the week (although I really do have more than I can consume). If you can grow oranges, you might try grafting a lime branch on and see how it does. Lemons, limes, and oranges are the same family, so can be grafted from one to the other. In fact, grafts are best as long as you choose a good root stock. All my trees are grafted. Growing from seed is crazy and requires years before you get fruit. Grafts will start to fruit on larger root stock almost immediately.
That's about all I can say for now about lemons (and lemonade), other than lemonade makes a great antioxidant, something those of us who are passing middle age need. Or so says my doctor.
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