The only way to satisfy a citrus obsession is to grow your own.
When I moved to a house in the Broadmoor in 2007, the landscape had been completely wiped clean by floodwaters of 2005. The only greenery in the yard was a huge, 20 foot tall and extremely prolific grapefruit tree. Because of this abundance of fruit, we bought an antique citrus juicer that sits on the counter for most of the year, its only employment being to look pretty. It does that job well: it’s super shiny and is a great conversation starter because it looks cool. Hand operated, it squeezes all the juice out of a halved citrus by the pull of a lever. Thankfully, at this time of year, it gets worked overtime for its intended use – making the world’s best orange juice from the bounty of Louisiana citrus available right now.
The combination of the tree with its large yearly crop of grapefruit, and the lovely juicer turned me into a citrus freak, regularly buying 10lb bags of satsumas and oranges from the farmers markets in the months before the grapefruit started producing.
After a few years of citrus bliss, we moved (trust me, if there was a way to take that tree with me, I probably would have). So I decided to plant my own citrus trees to feed my citrus obsession. Looking for expert advice, I turned to Isabelle Cossart, of Isabelle's organic orchard in Lower Coast Algiers.
Dubbed an “accidental farmer” by the New York Times in 2010, Isabelle didn’t plan on raising citrus – she won them in the midst of an ugly divorce that came on the heels of both breast cancer and hurricane Katrina. She now tends her three acre orchard (the only one in Orleans parish), and sells organic fruit to restaurants all over New Orleans. The secret to her trees success? "Duckweed!" she says emphatically. Duckweed is plentiful in the moat surrounding Isabelle's house and it is the only fertilizer her trees ever see. They also happen to be among the greenest, healthiest looking trees I've ever seen. "The alluvial soil from the Misssissippi is very good for the trees too."
When planting my own citrus, I selected the sunniest spot, which happened to be right on the neutral ground. I followed the directions from the citrus growers at Star Nursery:
- Dig a hole as deep, and twice as wide as the pot the tree came in.
- Remove tree from the pot and place in hole.
- Refill hole with bagged dirt, or compost.
- Create a small ring with mounded dirt around the branch line of the tree to keep water from running off.
- Top with an inch of mulch and water thoroughly, then water once a week while getting established.
Citrus trees can be found at nurseries all over New Orleans, but I like to buy trees directly from Star Nursery (www.starnurserybellechasse.com) a grower in Belle Chase. At this time of year, they regularly come to New Orleans farmers markets to sell citrus and they will gladly bring you trees if you call ahead.
They have several interesting varieties that even include dwarf types. There's no excuse not to try to grow your own!