Citrus trees produce an abundant harvest this seasonPublished 11:00pm Friday, November 30, 2012
The lyrics of a song Peter, Paul and Mary made a poplar back in the 1960s went something like, “Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”
If there’s any truth to that, then there will be more than a thousand fruits of the poor lemon that go to waste right here in Pike County.
The Hilburns and the Smileys of South Pike County have had bumper crops of lemons this season giving notice that citrus fruits can successfully be grown in Southeast Alabama.
Mynetter Smiley, laughingly, gives 95 percent of the credit for her lemon crop to her husband, Jimmy Smiley. She does take some credit for the crop because the tree was a gift to her.
“But Jimmy says the house is mine and the yard is his,” she said. “He’s done all of the watering of the tree and he’s kept the weeds from around it but it’s clean out there anyway. The lemon tree’s his pet.”
Smiley received the lemon tree as a give about four years ago. She stuck it out in the fall. The next year and the year after it produced a few lemons, but nothing like this year.
“I would be afraid to guess how many lemons have been on that tree but it’s loaded,” she said. “And, we’ve picked a lot of lemons off already.”
The only problem that the Smileys have found with the lemon growing process is that a good strong, spring wind will blow the blooms off.
Insects don’t seem to be drawn to the bitter fruit.
“I remember that when I was a little girl, my grandmother had a lemon tree and the lemons were as hard as knots,” Smiley said. “Like wild lemons would be. But these on our tree have soft skins, just like those in the grocery store.”
Smiley said her grandmother didn’t pick her lemons until the first frost hit them. Perhaps bringing sweetness to the lemons much like the way frost brings sweetness to sugar cane.
“But our lemons mighty sour,” Smiley said. “I’m giving them to family for whatever they want to do with them. I might make a pie. My grandmother used to make lemon cheesecakes with hers.”
Smiley stopped short of saying that she’s, for sure, going to make a lemon cheesecake or even a pie. She probably won’t have company coming around in hopes of getting a lemon or two, but a lemon cheesecake in the cupboard would be mighty inviting.
A little south of the Smileys,
James and Mary Sue Hilburn picked 648 lemons off their tree in one picking and there are more than a few green ones “coming on.”
“When the weather report said that it was going to freeze, we started picking,” J.W. Hilburn said. “We had a good crop and didn’t want to lose it.”
While the Hilburns were picking the lemons on one side of the tree, they seemed to be growing back on the other.
“We didn’t realize how many there were but, all in all, we probably had close to a thousand,” Hilburn said. “Lemon trees are easy to maintain and the investment is low.”
The Hilburns have more lemons than they have places to store them.
“We’ve got them in big boxes in two rooms,” Hilburn said. “That’s a lot of lemons. Most of them are about average size but some are ten or more inches around. That’s a big lemon.”
The Hilburns have sacked up lemons for family and friends and they still have more than enough to fill a 50-gallon drum.
“I don’t know if the tree will produce like this next year but I want to see what it does,” Hilburn said. “So, I’m going to cover it for the winter. The wind comes straight over the house and will take a bite out of it. Don’t want to lose it.”
The wind and the birds are the threats to the Hilburns’ lemon tree.
“In the summer, I had to put a net over the tree to keep the birds from eating the tiny lemons,” he said. “And the cold wind could damage it. So, I’ll keep it covered and see what kind of crop we get next year.”
Like the Smileys’ lemon tree, the Hilburns’ tree is four years old.
Their bumper crops could be a once in a blue moon kind of thing but they are hoping not.
Growing bushels of lemons in Pike County is a bit of an odd thing. Neither couple plans to get into the citrus fruit business but they are enjoying the fruits of this year’s harvest. And, as the saying goes, since life gave them lemons, they plan to make lemonade or better still, lemon cheesecake.
Whether citrus fruit can be grown on a large scale in Pike County is still in question.
Elaine Carmichael in Goshen has a heavy producing Satsuma tree that might indicate that the loose-skinned orange might be a good producer. However, Smiley said she has an orange tree and a lime tree that are nothing to brag about. So, perhaps, it’s the tree with the fruit that’s impossible to eat that is the future of Pike County’s citrus fruit industry, if there is one at all.