Harvesting Citrus: Lemons and Limes

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What You'll Need
Pruning knife or clippers

Among home backyard fruits, citrus lemon and lime trees are one of the most popular. Deciding when to harvest lemons and limes can be a bit tricky, but if you know what to look for, you can have an abundance of home grown citrus for your kitchen.

One of the most popular species of lemons in the past few years is the Meyer Lemon. This is not a pure lemon, but instead is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. Other popular types of lemons are Eureka and Lisbon. These two lemon species are much more sour and acidic in flavor than the Meyer Lemon.

Home grown limes are commonly grown in containers. Popular types of limes are the Key Lime also known as the Mexican Lime, which is small and has a distinctive, strong flavor. Another popular type is the Persian or Tahitian Lime, which is about two inches in size.

1. Ripeness

lime on a bush

Unlike other kinds of citrus, lemons and limes do better when picked only when they are fully ripe. Fully ripe lemons are a deep golden yellow and do not have any hint of green on the rind.

Limes, on the other hand, are yellow when they are completely ripe, but are picked while they are still green and are best when picked just before they ripen.

Ultimately, the best way to determine whether or not a lemon or lime is ripe and ready to be picked is to pick one of the fruit, cut it open, and taste it.

2. Harvesting

Unless the fruit has been exposed to frost, lemons and limes do not do well if they are picked before they are ready. Unlike other types of fruit, citrus does not continue to ripen once it is picked from the tree. As a result, it is usually best to pick lemons and limes starting with fruit that is on the lower branches. This helps fruit that is higher from the possibility of frost damage.

When picking the fruit, firmly grasp the lemon or lime in your hand and turn it to a 90 degree angle and pull. The fruit should easily snap off of the branch. If the rind tears, use a pruning knife or clippers to detach the fruit stem from the branch.

Once picked, lemons and limes will keep for approximately two weeks as long as they are stored in a cool place and the rind is not damaged.