A Lemon Tree to Grow Indoors

Growing citrus indoors on the prairies has always been a challenge because the low-light conditions we face are not ideal for these sun-loving plants. Some gardeners have found success by placing their trees outdoors in the summer or supplementing with additional light, but there has never been a tree developed with the indoor gardener in mind.

All that is set to change, thanks to the hard work of Saskatchewan’s M.P.M Nair. A retired engineer and a master gardener, Mr. Nair began his work in 1981, when an acquaintance told him he would not be able to grow lemons indoors. Taking that as a challenge, he decided that to have a plant that would thrive on a Saskatchewan windowsill throughout the year, he would need to develop a variety with low light needs, a dwarf growing habit and several annual fruiting cycles to maximize production.

By importing a cutting of an unusually shade-tolerant lemon from his childhood home in India and crossing the plant with commercial lemon varieties, Mr. Nair created 79 types of lemons, most of which he considered to be of unacceptable quality. After twenty years of growth, some plants have not even bloomed! However, about twenty plants have shown promise and he is currently continuing his breeding work. 

The first successful variety is now being registered for plant breeder’s rights in Canada, after which Mr. Nair plans to release it for propagation. This exciting new variety is called “Centurion.” It has juicy, seedless, commercial-sized fruit that does not fall from the tree when it is ripe. The plant is quite dwarf and it can grow in a pot as small as 6”. It will produce up to three or four times per year, providing somewhere between twelve and thirty fruit. “Centurion” tolerates low-light conditions so well that if it is grown on a sunny windowsill, it may even benefit from the extra shade provided by sheer curtains.

Other varieties which are still in development will focus on attributes such as edible leaves, varying sizes and levels of tartness, the presence or absence of seeds, and varying thicknesses of skin that can be used for zest or preserving. Mr. Nair has spent decades working on the development of these trees which will be suitable for indoor growing. 

You can see photos of his work with lemon trees and other plants that he is working on developing for indoor culture on his website at www.lemonbreederofthenorth.com. (See if you can spot the bananas!) Hopefully, this site will contain information about where to purchase his plants as soon as they are commercially available. This work is very exciting for northern gardeners and promises to change the way we approach citrus growing.

Fighting High Produce Prices by Growing Your Own

With the recent fall of the Canadian dollar, imported produce in Canada is beginning to rise in price. Especially during the winter, this affects most of our available fruits and vegetables. Cauliflower especially has been making headlines for prices up to $8 (!) per head. While factors other than the dollar have contributed to these prices without affecting other vegetables, most analysts agree that produce prices are likely to rise over the next several years as the dollar stays low.

For people looking to minimize their grocery budget by growing their own produce, two different strategies are available. One is to grow high-value food for the maximum savings when compared to what you would typically buy at the store. The other strategy is to grow high-calorie foods in an attempt to survive as long as possible off of what you grow.

To grow high-value crops, you first must take into account what you usually buy and eat. Although organic chard might be pricey, the amount you save is only equal to what you would have spent, so consider the cost of the food you will be replacing. Some high-value vegetables are tricky to grow, but many are simply difficult to store or transport, problems which do not affect the home gardener. Some that are fairly easy to grow include lettuce, spinach, chard, rhubarb, peas, beans and herbs such as parsley, dill, basil, sage and chives. Other vegetables that offer a little more challenge are tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. Unfortunately, you will have the biggest harvest during the summer when prices are lowest, but it is still worthwhile, especially if you are able to preserve any extra.

Fruit trees also provide a good return. Although they can initially be expensive or take several years to fruit, the continued production over many years can repay your investment many times. Apples are usually inexpensive, but cherries, plums and strawberries will likely give you a good return. Raspberries are an especially good choice, as they are easy to grow but expensive to buy in stores.

Planting high-calorie crops might require some shifts to your diet, but many of these vegetables are easy to grow and require less care. These are the foods many of our ancestors lived off during long winters because of their good storage qualities, and they provide a lot of food for the effort and area required. A heavy crop of potatoes, for example, will feed you for far longer than your harvest of peas from the same space. Some examples of these vegetables are carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, beets, winter squash, cabbage, sunchokes and even sunflower seeds.

Although it's always a great time to start growing your own food, the best time to gain experience is when you don't have to depend on your garden to survive. So if you feel like higher produce prices will pinch your budget in the future, now is the time to start getting some experience and put your vegetable garden to work for you. Good luck!

Now posting from the Chinook belt!

All the posts up to this point have originated from Edmonton, Alberta, which seemed really far north to me (sorry Grande Prairie!). However, a recent move has brought us to southern Alberta. Although my new garden isn't quite so far north, growing in this climate is pretty similar and, in some ways, even more challenging. The extensive snow cover we previously enjoyed gave us some success with perennials that are less hardy; the freeze-thaw cycles here cause more damage to plant roots. 

So, for anyone still reading this blog, expect more posts soon about our new raised beds, fruits and ornamentals. Our new house has a much bigger yard (but not huge), so we can try a few more things here. For now, plant catalogues are providing the winter entertainment, so here are links to a few of my favourites for browsing that have a good selection and great photos!