One of the advantages of living in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California is our balmy Mediterranean-like weather. We can grow just about anything. Seriously!
Just about every kind of nut or fruit tree, vegetable and herb does well here in the valley. Especially citrus. We have a huge naval orange tree that supplies us with hundreds of pounds of oranges every year. In fact, one of our favorite desserts in the winter is an orange with half a bar of dark chocolate… one bite of this, one bite of that 😀
In preparation for moving up to our future homestead in the mountains where citrus trees don’t survive unless they are kept above freezing temperatures, we decided to get some dwarf citrus and plant them in large pots so that they can be moved around. They will stay inside a pit greenhouse (sometimes called walipini) during the winter and can be brought to the front porch of our soon to be built house during the spring, summer and autumn.
I bought the lemon tree first, when I saw it on sale at our local nursery, because I loved the Meyer lemon tree that my mother has. The Meyer lemon comes from China and is a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange, which makes it just a bit sweeter. It is delicious when used in lemon bars or lemon iced tea, but is out of this world when squeezed on fresh grilled salmon. In researching the Meyer Lemon, I found that the dwarf variety does quite nicely in containers, as long as they are given an occasional boost of a good citrus fertilizer.
Soon after, my oldest son bought a Tango Mandarin for my grand children. The kids were going through boxes of those “cuties” that are sold at the grocery store, so my son thought it would be a good idea to get their own tree. These little citrus fruits are the kind that peel very easily and have little to no seeds – perfect for small hands and mouths. When I saw the cute little tree he had, I decided to get one for myself. This variety of mandarin can be a bit more pricey than a regular mandarin or tangerine, because the tree was developed to have sterile flowers which don’t cross-pollinate, preventing the seeds from forming. We bought two large cement pots, one for the lemon tree and the other for the mandarin, at a Mexican pottery store in Escalon called Lopez Imports, and they were quite reasonably priced! Both citrus trees have done well in those pots. In fact, the mandarin just finished blooming again (second bloom of the year), and now has little pea sized fruits on it as well as the walnut sized ones from the first bloom in the spring!
The mandarins will be ripe sometime in January, although the mature fruit can be left on the tree for several months, harvesting as desired. However, it is important to harvest all of the mandarins before the first bloom in spring opens, or the next year’s harvest will be reduced.
Next is the ginger. I planted a piece of ginger root two months ago when I had a small piece left after making some Ginger Ale. If you have never made your own Ginger Ale before, click HERE for directions. It’s really fun and really good!
It took about two weeks, but sure enough, a small sprig came up out of the ground. I think I probably planted it too deep, but here we are about two months later and another sprig (the fifth) is just now coming up out of the ground! The leaves got a bit burned a few weeks ago when we had an intense heat and wind spell, but overall I think the plant looks pretty happy. It’s nice being able to have a plant on the patio, because ginger doesn’t like direct sunlight, and prefers moist, not wet soil.
Here is my tomato plant. I couldn’t plant a garden this year because our real estate agent said nice lawns sell houses. We are selling our valley house so we can start building our mountain homestead. 😀 So, I decided to put a couple of our volunteer tomatoes (from last year’s crop) into a large pot on our patio.
Well, here it is.
Do you see any tomatoes? Neither do I. Harrumph!
I don’t want to blame the tomato, however. I think I am going to blame myself. You see, the plant is always thirsty! I used to think it was because the unglazed terracotta pot was letting the soil evaporate too easily. Nope. I figured out that it’s because there isn’t anything holding in the water – as in mulch! If I am not able to water the tomato every single day, the poor thing withers, and it’s been withered down a lot lately. I am going to try layering some paper on top of the soil and see if that will make a difference. Better late than never!
We also have a couple of pomegranate trees in pots. These are trees I got at a clearance sale because I couldn’t pass them up. Unfortunately, the variety of pomegranate was not marked on the pots, but since the variety Wonderful is the most popular here in California, I am going to assume that is what they are. They had several blooms this year but didn’t produce any fruit, so hopefully we will get one or two next year. We are planning to get several more pomegranate trees that we will plant along the road frontage of our future mountain homestead, but these two make a great start in that direction. If you would like to know which variety of pomegranate my husband and I have decided to plant (along with the two Wonderful variety we already have), and how we made our decision, you can go HERE. Hopefully we will be able to get them into the ground this next spring, but we have some clearing to do before that will happen.
Finally, I have three volunteer almond trees. They all look fine – one is really tall, one is quite short and the other is the middle child. Looking at the pots they are in, the growth rate of each tree really makes no rhyme or reason – the tallest tree being in the smallest pot! Nonetheless, they are all surviving just fine. They are babies of the almond tree we have in our backyard, that produces some of the most juicy, sweet almonds you will ever eat. Hopefully these babies will produce almonds just as good – in about five years!
Here is where I need some advice
The dilemma: I know the almond trees and pomegranate trees will be fine up on our mountain homestead, but what to do with the Meyer Lemon, the Tango Tangerine and the Ginger? We will be living in our trailer while we build our home, and as anyone who has ever been in a travel trailer knows, there just isn’t any extra space. None. So, where do we put our three tropical weather loving potted plants? We do have a small 5′ x 6′ plastic greenhouse. I think I will put the two trees inside the greenhouse in the middle of our fruit orchard, so they will be able to get sunlight during the day.
But what happens when it freezes?
I did see one method to keep an unheated greenhouse reasonably warm. It involves horse manure. You see, apparently horse manure gets really hot and stays hot for a couple of weeks as it decomposes. From what I have read, a nice sized pile of horse manure, insulated by some grass or straw, inside a box, will keep a small greenhouse frost free for two weeks. Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, but will it make the lemons and mandarins smell or taste a little… well… poopy?
Another method I read about was using water as an insulator. Apparently you would line the north and east sides (at least) with jugs of water (milk jugs work), two or three rows high with boards between stabilizing them so they don’t tumble over. The milk jugs absorb the warmth from the sun during the day and then radiate the warmth back into the greenhouse during the night. That method sounds like it is do-able also. But what happens when you have a few days in a row without any sunlight?
I suppose if the temperature drops below 28 degrees, which is the lowest temperature most citrus can tolerate, we could always put our little propane heater in the greenhouse – on the lowest setting of course. But again, do we need to worry about fumes hurting the trees or even the fruit?
What do you think? We only need a temporary solution because we plan to start building the pit greenhouse next year – hopefully before the next winter settles in.
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