Focus on growing lemons

FE16_F_lemon-on-treeOf all the citrus, a well-established lemon tree is the most essential. A lemon tree growing in our back yard is a long-standing Kiwi tradition, yielding yellow slices for a cuppa or a gin and tonic, zest for a recipe, or providing the basics of marmalade or lemonade.

The lemon is an attractive small tree, originating in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India and later introduced by the Arabs to the Mediterranean where it flourished, particularly in Italy and Sicily, and eventually spread to the warmer regions of America 愦灭;amp; Australasia.

The hardiest and smallest of lemon varieties is ‘Meyer’, a spreading, decorative tree with dark green glossy foliage, and the mainstay of the garden citrus orchard in New Zealand. It has evolved with some grapefruit or orange in its parenthood, giving it a juice that is less sharp than more traditional lemons, although some prefer the stronger-tasting zest and juice of other lemon varieties for culinary use. The tree is quick to fruit, and bears more prolifically throughout winter into spring, but there’s little lull in the production of sweet juicy fruit, which can be enjoyed fresh off the tree.

Other popular types are ‘Yen Ben’ and ‘Lisbon’. The fruit of both has a sharp, full flavour, and ‘Lisbon’ is tolerant of both hot and cold. ‘Yen Ben’ is largely planted in New Zealand as a commercial crop, and is the main lemon we find on the supermarket shelves. Drawbacks of both include thorny growth, particularly on ‘Lisbon’, and vigour and size, which may make the trees unsuitable for smaller gardens.

‘Villa Franca’ is a smaller tree than ‘Lisbon’, with no thorns, and bears its fruit during the warmer months, yielding plenty of almost seedless lemons for cooling drinks and providing garnishes for your barbecue meals.

If you have a sweeter tooth you could try ‘Lemonade’ — not really a true lemon, although it looks like one, it produces heavy crops of pale lemon fruit that is easy to peel, and flesh that breaks into segments like an orange — it can be eaten straight from the tree.

Many areas of Kapiti Coast are ideal for growing lemons as long as you provide shelter from salt laden winds. They prefer free-draining soils and will perform well in sand that has been fed regular, liberal amounts of compost — this helps keep the sand cool and retains moisture. Lemon trees growing in sodden ground are prime candidates for collar rot, a soil fungus that attacks the trunk at ground level. If ignored, the fungus can kill the tree — perhaps consider growing your lemon in a container if your garden has poorly-drained soil.

Lemons do best in steady growing conditions, and are gross feeders —well-rotted animal manure or blood and bone is essential for a prolific crop. Spread fertiliser around the tree’s dripline then add a layer of mulch while the soil is moist. A handful of specialised citrus fertiliser can also give a good boost.

If you prefer to use a strictly organic regime, apply well-rotted chicken manure once every two to three years. In the intervening years, use compost or animal manure (horse, cow or sheep).

You can also use organic liquid fertilisers made from comfrey, seaweed or animal manure — apply every two to four weeks during growing season, or fish fertiliser, applied according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Got Surplus lemons — try some home made cordial

FE16_lemon-drinkLemon Cordial — with a twist of Lime

  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime rind
  • 3/4 cup lime juice 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon tartaric acid
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 teaspoon tartaric acid
  • 3 cups boiling water