Our Newbie Citrus Story


When we bought our house last spring we knew we were getting a grapefruit and an orange tree.   We like oranges and fresh squeezed orange juice but weren’t too excited about the grapefruit.  The oranges were gone by the time we moved in but the grapefruit were surprisingly sweet and the juice was good.

Unfortunately we knew nothing about caring for citrus trees and they got very stressed with inadequate water.   The irrigation system was still set on the winter watering schedule and by early summer the trees should have been getting triple that amount.  It seems so obvious now.

With the aid of a local nursery we got our act together and learned how to care for citrus trees.  Randy spent long hot hours digging water wells under the trees, changing sprinkler lines and pruning the inside of the trees allowing for airflow. 

5E84FC68-B98F-42E1-A63E-854836231AAB_1_201_a We even added to our citrus grove by purchasing a tangerine tree.   We were hoping for a “little cutie” seedless tree.   Because we were newbies, with the nursery planting in the summer,  we bought tree insurance allowing for replacement for a variety of reasons- including if we didn’t like the taste of the fruit.

In December we harvested about thirty tangerines.   They were baseball size and had seeds.  We were so disappointed.   The nursery offered to trade our tree but said maintaining a seedless variety would be pretty much impossible.   Apparently those little cutie growers go to great effort to plant orchards far away from other citrus to avoid cross pollination.  Our tangerine tree was mere yards from our orange and grapefruit trees.   Even though we were disappointed it seemed excessive to destroy a perfectly good tree in exchange for another that still wouldn’t be what we wanted.  We’ll just enjoy our tangerines.  

59DA5C17-7D6A-4B6F-A5CC-EE546EFF2BCCIn January we joined a citrus gleaning group at our church.   About thirty of us spent Wednesday mornings January through March gleaning oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangelos, etc. from trees in the adjacent Sun City community.  The fruit is donated to a local food bank – some given out as whole fruit and some as juice.

Most of these trees are owned by older people who could not possibly pick the fruit or manage its distruibution.  They donate $25 per tree to the food bank for each tree we pick thereby helping to defray the cost of operating the juice machine.  (The cost of professional gleaners would be $150 – $200 per tree.)  As a group we gleaned 212 trees yielding approximately 95,000 pounds of citrus for the food bank.   

4B9D8574-0F5D-478A-A1A3-E1031BFEB4ECTwice we had house guests who joined us.   Thanks to our friend Jacque for visiting and for pitching in.  

6E8B9F2C-DCF1-480B-82CA-6F55CE7CD5FFOur friend Beth also came and picked with us while visiting.   We didn’t get a picture of her but she took one of Randy shaking the tree.   In January we were picking fruit that didn’t seem quite ripe and by early March all he had to do was shake a limb and lots came down!  (The white paint is to avoid sunburn.)

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aOur own grapefruit were plentiful but much smaller than the ones we “inherited” last year.   Our oranges were also plentiful and small but we don’t know what size they were previously.   We assume they too were stunted due to the summer stress.

We left the fruit on our trees very late into the season hoping they would improve with age but eventually we gleaned them too with the help of our neighbors.E7009346-C39B-4607-A53C-B231CC18B730_1_201_aAfter Donna and Rick had taken as much as they wanted,  and we had given away what we could,  we still had a lot left….

00706F67-99D9-4039-BCCA-771B7ABD951EWe juiced a lot!  We have enough grapefruit juice to last all year and have six quart bags of orange juice.   Our oranges were so small it took about 30 oranges to make 2.5 cups of juice.


And that brings me to limoncello…   Our son-in-law, Seth, introduced me to limoncello several years ago when he home crafted a batch in Boise.    I purchased some  limoncello at Costco last summer and it is my happy hour drink of choice.  I even have a T-Shirt saying limoncello is my “spirit drink.”

1204A16A-326B-43E7-85C4-392C54F5C35C_1_201_aAll that is way overstating the importance of limoncello in my life but when you have a neighbor with a lemon tree, and he gives you way too many lemons, you go for it.   We made our own limoncello.

31D514F2-43E8-4FFA-A37E-2EB308571122Limoncello uses zest peel, not juice, and is usually made with Everclear.  We had some rum that Randy didn’t like so we used that instead.   After sitting for a couple weeks we mixed that concoction with a simple syrup and were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Our limoncello isn’t nearly as strong or as sweet as the brand we buy.  We are liking combining a little of ours with a little of the store bought version.

79772372-81DE-45C6-8A90-BFEEF30F1D5AWe got overconfident and decided to try grapefruitcello and orangecello using our own citrus.   We went to the liquor store to buy Everclear but it was scarce as people were using it to make hand sanitizer.    Vodka was recommended as our base liquor.

From the beginning we had doubts about grapefruitcello because no recipe ever calls for grapefruit zest.  But why not try it?   Several weeks later, when we were ready to add the simple syrup, we made up only a small amount.   Grapefruitcello was really bad.

1A3120C9-C39A-4E61-A0CB-AE7110B31281Our orangecello was drinkable but not as good as our limoncello.   We think the secret for us may be using rum instead of  vodka.

4BCABA6A-A81D-41F8-B42F-64EFFB01F261So we’ve learned a lot in our newbie citrus year – about caring for trees, about gleaning and about eating and drinking the fruit.   This little orange is already beginning next year’s crop of fruit, juice and orangecello.  Cheers!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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8 Responses to Our Newbie Citrus Story

  1. Mark P McClelland says:

    My family lived in Phoenix for one year (1968) and our house had lemon and orange trees in the backyard. For a kid from Michigan it seemed magical to be able to go out back and just pick an orange!! It looks like your orchard is coming along great!

    You may need to do some thinning of young fruit in order to get a bigger size. Most fruit trees will start with “too many” little fruits, and if you don’t thin some they may all end up stunted.

    • Serene says:

      Well that makes perfect sense. The tree seemed to be shedding some small fruit on its own but thinning purposefully is a good idea. We could use more quality and less volume.

  2. Teri McClelland says:

    I love the smell of citrus blossoms. I used to have a Mexican lime tree and a Myers Lemon tree in my greenhouse. Food seems to taste better when you grow it yourself.
    I’m enjoying your blogs. You and Randy look great!

    • Serene says:

      I love the idea of having a lime tree – I think. I’d love to have fresh limes but don’t really want one more tree to deal with! Actually I really want one of my neighbors to have a lime tree that I can grab a couple off anytime I want!

  3. Betty says:

    Nice. Lemonaide would be good. You should try a Lemon drop martini. Those are awesome. Y’all definatley know to have fun. Have a good day!

    • Serene says:

      Will have to look into Lemon drop martinis! I tried lemonade but couldn’t knowingly put that much sugar into something I would drink!

  4. Donna Fischer says:

    Glad to hear that your citrus adventures are delicious! I do think that you need a lime tree though. 😘

    • Serene says:

      I have a site picked out for a very small lime tree. The current occupant of that spot, an ocotillo, plays dead and then very slightly resurrects itself. I learned it can take two years to fully acclimate an ocotillo so it has one year to go….

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