Lemon Ladies Orchard
Meyer lemons are a labor of love for Karen Morss
At home in the orchard: Meyer lemon grower Karen Morss tends to her ladies. Below; The fruits of her labors: Meyer lemon marmalade
Photographs by Victoria Alexander
Brightly colored and surprisingly sweet, Meyer lemons are late winter’s most cheerful crop. A citrus fruit with the flavor of a lemon but the sweetness of a Mandarin orange, Meyer lemons are great for cooking and baking old-fashioned treats like marmalade and lemon meringue pie. At Lemon Ladies Orchard in Emerald Hills, near Redwood City, the tasty little fruits are grown with love by Karen Morss.
“I love Meyer lemons. I just adore Meyer lemons,” Morss gushes. A former businesswoman in the software industry, Karen retired from the corporate world in 1998. To fill her time, she turned to the sky. She bought two private airplanes and a flight school while she was still a student pilot. She also married her instructor, test pilot and air racer Dave Morss. But her love for Meyer lemons prevailed over her passion for aviation, and after five years of running the flight school, she sold it and planted an orchard.
Since 2004, Morss has been caring for 40 fruit-bearing trees in a three-quarter-acre plot in her backyard. The grove produces wonderfully sweet lemons, but it also has a deeper meaning for Morss—one which gives Lemon Ladies Orchard its name.
“Each tree is named for a woman who inspired me or helped me achieve my goals in life,” Morss explains. “Some are from my family, some are from the flight school, some are just people who inspired me in general. There is an Amelia Earhart lemon tree out there.” Each one of the 40 Lemon Ladies produces 150 pounds of fruit per season—typically September through May—most of which Morss distributes through Internet orders culled from her website, lemonladies.com. Meyer lemons are seldom found in grocery stores, so customers from all over the United States request them.
“Nobody has these, and nobody was shipping them commercially when I started this,” Morss says. “Part of the reason is that Meyer lemons have to ripen on the tree. They don’t ripen once they are picked. And they have a very thin skin. The big commercial growers have a difficult time handling Meyer lemons.”
Morss picks lemons every Sunday to fill orders and ship them out on Monday. “I think I get as much pleasure from the customer reactions,” she says. “Today I am shipping 10 pounds to [a customer in] Alaska, and when she gets these lemons it will be such a treat for her. I can’t even imagine what Alaska is like right now, but it has got to be yucky.”
Morss’s lemons are completely organic. “I use organic fertilizer and water, sunshine and love, and that is it,” she says. “And you can see, they are just glorious.” If the success of a farm can be measured in the happiness of the farmer, Lemon Ladies Orchard must be at the top of the citrus business.
“I just love the orchard, even walking through the orchard. It smells so good down there,” Morss says. “I think Meyer lemons are just the most wonderful thing.”
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