Lemons in the cold country

A tried-and-tested approach to growing citrus in frost and snow country

Life & Style
Bill Trimmer and the citrus bounty at Forest Reefs, about 830 metres elevation. He says careful placement and insulating young trees is key to cold country lemons.

Bill Trimmer and the citrus bounty at Forest Reefs, about 830 metres elevation. He says careful placement and insulating young trees is key to cold country lemons.

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Bill Trimmer knows how to coax the best from a lemon tree, even when the country is prone to a dump of snow.

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THE ubiquitous lemon tree is largely uncelebrated compared with other citrus varieties in Australia, yet at the moment trees across the country are dripping with fruit.

Thought to have originated in southern China, northern Burma or Pakistan, a genomic study has established it as a natural cross between a bitter orange and a citron, one of three species from which all citrus trees have developed.

Now anyone who lives in frost-prone areas will be aware the lemon tree can be nipped by the cold.

But growing lemons in country almost guaranteed at least one dump of snow a year presents real challenges.

Enter Bill Trimmer, of Forest Reefs, who has mastered the practice.

Sure he had an advantage to most, he spent 41 years with the NSW Department of Agriculture, mostly involved in fruit production.

Standing at the northern side of a corrugated iron shed Bill shows me his two oldest trees, a meyer lemon and a Eureka.

"The meyer is three parts lemon, one part orange," says Bill.

Bill wraps the trunks of young trees in Sisalation, a roofing insulator, for the first few years of their lives.

Bill wraps the trunks of young trees in Sisalation, a roofing insulator, for the first few years of their lives.

THE meyer is about 10 years old and flanked by the eight-year-old Eureka, which has outgrown the meyer.

"Eureka is the main crop grown commercially in NSW.

"They'll sometimes crop twice a year elsewhere in the state, but not here," he said, chuckling.

A 60-kilogram haul

However, the two trees produced 60 kilograms of fruit for him last year and there's a good load on them now.

"I only watered them a couple of times last year, citrus trees will let you know when they need a drink."

Moving right along there's a poor man's orange, bought as something else but not true to type, as apparently happens with citrus varieties sometimes.

"They're bitter and seedy, though you might make a marmalade from it."

On that point, Bill laments the current dearth of jam makers locally.

In another sheltered spot he has a Seville orange, a Washington navel, a pink grapefruit and a seedless Valencia.

Of the Valencia, he says it's a fine juice tree, but reckons most of the citrus varieties deserve a place in people's backyards.

"They're not a big tree, and of course are very valuable," he said. So what's his secret?

"You have to keep them protected, here it's the southerlies you have to watch, they fairly rip through here."

Bill says a northerly aspect is best and admits the proximity to corrugated iron that warms in the sun is another benefit.

But the real key is keeping the trunks protected.

"The bark on young citrus trees is very susceptible to cold," he said.

And the answer is Sisalation, the silver-coloured insulative membrane designed for use as sarking under residential and commercial metal roofs.

Bill wraps the trunks in the stuff for the first few years of the trees' life.

The meyer and Eureka trunks are now bared however, proving that once established, the trees can tough out a long, cold winter.

On the wall of his dining room is a framed print of places at which he was stationed throughout his career with the Department of Agriculture, at Wagga Wagga, Bathurst, Glen Innes, Dareton, Yanco, Orange, Gosford and Spring Terrace.

Bill spent 36 years of his 41 with the department at research stations, concentrated on fruit production.

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