While gardens in cold, northern climates may be shivering under a layer of snow and ice, southern gardeners in warm climates are being greeted by the sight of ripening citrus.
Growing up in Southern California, our garden always included citrus trees. We had a large lemon tree next to the patio that produced baskets filled with countless lemons. There was also an orange tree just outside my bedroom window. Springtime would bring the most heavenly scent of orange blossoms wafting through my bedroom.
Fast forward to the present and I now have my own garden in Arizona, where citrus is widely grown. Our first home had a large grapefruit tree that my oldest daughters would climb. Later, we built a new home and I spent time creating an ‘edible garden’, which is filled with three vegetable gardens, blackberry bushes, apple and peach trees.
A couple of years ago, we added an orange tree to our edible garden. The kids were so excited about the prospect of fresh oranges right off of the tree.
It was a very small tree, but younger trees (of all types) handle the transplanting process better then older trees.
Like many fruit trees, I knew that we would have to wait a few years before our little tree would bear any fruit because most of the tree’s resources were being spent on growing new roots before it could concentrate on top growth.
The first year in the ground was not a happy one for our little tree. A hard freeze came that dipped temperatures into the low 20’s for 5 days in a row.
Citrus grow in the warmer areas of the United States including California, Arizona, Texas and Florida (in zone 9 and above) and do suffer damage when temps dip below freezing.
Any hope of any fruit being produced were dashed because the branches had been damaged by the frost.
Eight months after the frost, I was delighted to see that our small tree had five green oranges on it. It has also grown a bit larger, which meant that it could support a few oranges.
Both my husband and kids were impatiently waiting for our oranges to start ripening. Every week, we would check to see the green color on the oranges slowly disappearing and being replaced with a lovely shade of orange.
Finally the day arrived when our oranges were ready to be picked.
An easy way to tell if oranges are ready to be harvested is to lightly pull them while twisting them off the branch. If they do not come off easily, then wait another week before trying again. Thicker-skinned Navel oranges are usually completely orange when ready while thin-skinned Valencia oranges still retain some green coloring mixed with orange when ripe.
**Oranges do not ripen after being picked, so keep them on the tree until they are fully ripe.
My 2-year old granddaughter, Lily, was excited to help me pick the oranges, which brought back memories of picking oranges from the huge trees in my own grandparent’s backyard.
Because our first harvest was so small, we picked all five oranges off of the tree.
Then we went inside and sliced up the largest orange to taste. It was sweet and absolutely delicious.
Because this was our first taste of fruit from our tree, they tasted extra special.
As our orange tree grows larger and our harvest bigger, I plan on making lots of orange marmalade.
In the meantime, I decided to preserve the zest from the skin by freezing it. This way, we will be able to enjoy our small harvest a little bit longer when we use the zest to flavor our favorite dishes.
You can freeze the zest from all types of citrus. Earlier, I wrote about freezing the zest from lemons, which I often use when I cook. Read how to freeze zest here.
I am looking forward to later this year when our peach and apple trees will bear fruit
Do you have any fruit trees in your garden? What types?