Citrus, broadly speaking
February 18, 2022 8:50 AM   Subscribe

The Soviets went to extraordinary lengths to cultivate citrus fruits on their largely unsuitable territory. The techniques they used included breeding varieties more resistant to cold (in part by gradually moving each generation farther north). They also bred very short (25cm tall) trees that spread out very broadly. Oh, and they planted trees in trenches up to 2 meters deep. As you do.

In more recent developments, Eater has a video on a business cultivating yuzu in New Jersey. This involves moving trees inside in the winter. (The Soviets used that trick, too.)

Besides patience, both of these things require a lot of time and labor (hello, Soviet workforce!) or that plus a good amount of money (hello, fancy restaurants!).

This is in part via an answer by clockwork on Ask MetaFilter.
posted by fruitslinger (22 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I was just reading about this in Rebecca Solnit's Orwell's Roses. Apparently Stalin reeeeeeallly wanted to have lemon trees everywhere.
posted by praemunire at 8:53 AM on February 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yes! I was recently introduced to the concept of an Orangery and now I know what I want to do when I retire.
posted by gwint at 9:18 AM on February 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Learned a lot about citrus cultivation in a short amount of time, thank you for slinging this post :))
posted by coolname at 9:57 AM on February 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

I really missed boiled green peanuts, which were a regular snack from my childhood in Georgia. Green peanuts are not readily available in my northern state, so I did some research and ordered a cold hardy version from Etsy. I got a small envelope from Chelyabinsk, Russia.

If you're familiar with Chelyabinsk it's probably because of an exploding meteor, but it's a city on the Siberian side of the Urals. It's very, very cold, much colder than the city where I currently live. But apparently there is a little farm growing citrus, tobacco, stone fruits, ground nuts, etc. in a climate where most of them don't belong. They only ship the seeds so as to be compliant with plant import rules.

My peanuts did really well and I harvested them by the bunch in the fall. They were the best boiled peanuts I've ever had. It was nice to benefit directly from the push to grow in colder places.
posted by Alison at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2022 [28 favorites]

Tangentially, when I first read War and Peace I was confused AF by the references to the "lime trees" that Prince Andrei had planted. Only fairly recently did I learn that "lime tree" refers to something completely not-citrus in this context.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2022 [7 favorites]

I’m in Chicago, and I’ve successfully grown key limes, navel oranges, and blood oranges by planting them in pots, bringing them in before frost, and parking them in a sunny room with a southern exposure (it’s a late 70s eco-friendly house, so the south side of the house is a pseudo-orangerie).
posted by leotrotsky at 10:09 AM on February 18, 2022 [7 favorites]

The Soviets went to extraordinary lengths to cultivate citrus fruits
posted by fruitslinger

Could it be any more eponysterical
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2022 [14 favorites]

I just finished Orwell's Roses too, jinx.

The book talks about Stalin having a doomed Lysenkoist plan to "toughen up" lemons into growing in Moscow. But it doesn't mention this pre-Lysenko (and apparently quite successful) citrus cultivation program at all. I think the author must just not have known about it- she writes "It's conceivable that selective breeding over generations might have resulted in hardier lemon trees, but he seemed to be trying to toughen up individual specimens like a drill sergeant training recruits." But it wasn't just conceivable, the Soviets had in fact done it decades prior! Which makes Stalin's lemon ambitions make a lot more sense. The book also says that Stalin's "large-scale lemon planting in the Crimea region of Ukraine froze" but this article says they did cultivate citrus in Crimea, though maybe not lemons (which they say are the least hardy).
posted by BungaDunga at 10:12 AM on February 18, 2022

* Minnesotan who loves citrus reads with interest *

Hey, their "cold frame trench" looks like a Walipini!!! I can verify that one can indeed grow summer veg - and, probably citrus too - in Minnesota in the winter if you have a walipini or something like it. Unfortunately, the walipini in my friends yard fell victim to nosy neighbors and city coding. But, if you've got the space, cool neighbors, and the time/energy, I highly recommend it!
posted by Gray Duck at 10:13 AM on February 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

Apparently Stalin reeeeeeallly wanted to have lemon trees everywhere.

Russia long had a dependence on imported tea and lemons that was no joke. The tea came from China via overland caravan at great expense, and it was consumed with lemons from the Mediterranean and sugar from the Caribbean. All of this was a significant drain on foreign exchange. The dependence on foreign sugar was partly mitigated by a developing beet sugar in the 19th century but by the 1920s the Soviet Government had really pressing problems with foreign exchange and needed to do whatever it could to cut imports. It is not surprising that they wanted lemon trees. The also wanted, and got, tea plantations.

Tea was introduced in Georgia in the 19th century, multiple times. Each time a prototype tea industry got going it got destroyed by war, until finally after WWII the Soviets were able to grow enough tea to meet some decent fraction of their needs. Just before WWI Russia imported about 80000 tons of tea a year. I can't find comparable figures for the 1970s but by 1976 Soviet Georgia was growing 356000 tons. I haven't even looked at TFA yet and while I expect it's fascinating I suspect the bigger story would be telling about how the Soviets managed to adapt tea to their territory.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:27 AM on February 18, 2022 [10 favorites]

lol never mind…
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2022

Couldn't the fact that "progressive cold hardening" works, be taken as evidence for the discredited and oft ridiculed theories of Lamarck and Lysenko?
posted by Johnny Quaternion at 10:56 AM on February 18, 2022

They weren't progressively hardening the same plants, they were taking seeds from successful plants and planting them just a little bit further north. Some portion of those seeds are successful, produce new seeds, and so on. It wouldn't work if you just repeatedly exposed particular plants to harsher conditions, which is what Lysenko thought you could do.

Now, if you're Lysenko, you can try to explain why the traditional methods seemed to work by saying each generation of plant adapts to its local conditions, and that the whole repeated seeding/planting is just superfluous. But just because it's consistent with his ideas doesn't really make it very good evidence, since it's perfectly consistent with genetic theory too.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:13 AM on February 18, 2022 [9 favorites]

Only fairly recently did I learn that "lime tree" refers to something completely not-citrus in this context.

Annoying but fun fact: the "lime tree" referred to in this context is the actual translation of the title of that early-aughts song "Dragostea Din Tei". ...You know the one...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

One of the comments on the article from the author:
The two sources on which most my article is based date from the early 1950s, when Lysenko's influence had waned. Still, a term like "progressive frost-hardening" reminds of Lysenko (although what is meant here is actually selective breeding) and the figures about the production of citrus may be exaggerated
Which makes me wonder if they called it "progressive frost-hardening" (which sounds Lysenko-adjacent) because it was still politically sensitive at the time to call selective breeding what it really was.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:37 AM on February 18, 2022

When I answered that question I was actually remembering the article on fruit walls that's mentioned at the end of the article.
posted by clockwork at 11:51 AM on February 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

The cultivation of creeping citrus plants in trenches, although labour-intensive, was a simple method that did not require large investment, and provided high yields (80 to 200 fruits per stem per year) as well as high quality tropical fruits. All types of citrus fruits were grown in trenches.

I suspect that approximately 0% of modern Russia's citrus consumption is supplied by this method, which works best when you have a large population of enslaved convicts to press into service as citrus tenders/harvesters.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:08 PM on February 18, 2022

using geothermal to grow citrus in Nebraska
posted by oceano at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

this method (...) works best when you have a large population of enslaved convicts to press into service as citrus tenders/harvesters.

It'd work great in the US, then.
posted by Tom-B at 1:29 PM on February 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

leotrotsky, me too! Meyer lemon, kumquat, kalamansi, makrut lime. So far.

The passive solar always keeps them well above dangerous temps even when I'm away.
posted by joeyh at 3:02 PM on February 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

A few years back-- 4?-- I got to taste some experimental wine from a prominent Michigan grower. They'd imported Italian varietals from Piedmont and planted in trenches so the vines would be covered in snow, and insulated somewhat, over winter. They weren't as powerful as the classic Italian wines but were viable red wines in their own right.
I long to grow citrus here, too, but I need more sunny windows.
posted by winesong at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I managed to grow these tomatoes in my unheated conservatory all through the Christchurch winter... no ripe fruit until very early spring, but they stayed alive and set fruit, even with below zero (celsius) overnight temps in mid winter.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:59 PM on February 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

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