DMS Ranch Story
34 years ago, Doug Michael, Joan and Dan Smith and Jim and Anne Dierke bought a 100 acre apple ranch in Sebastopol California and used the first letters of their names, DMS for the new business. The former owner had gone into bankruptcy as the market for apples dried up when large new acreage came into production in Oregon and Washington. DMS Ranch became one of the first organic apple farms in the area as all production was moved to organic practices.
But as the years went by and apple trees died of old age, the partners began thinking of other options for this very special property. While everyone else in the area was planting wine grapes, Doug and Dan had other ideas.
For many years, Dan had watched a neighboring property that had a long before abandoned homestead. Outside of the falling down house were two Meyer Lemon trees. As Dan tells it, “these two trees were never watered, never fertilized, never sprayed and never pruned yet every year, they produced a wonderful crop of lemons. Over time, the lemons had become quite small from lack of water and fertilizer but there were always buckets of them. My realization was that these trees had gone through hard freezes, long droughts, and not only survived but graced the environment with beautiful fruit the entire time.”
Not satisfied with just this one example, Dan wandered about the area and located many other Meyer Lemon trees growing in people’s yards. “I would ask people about their tree and uniformly I would hear that they really gave it no care but were always able to have lemons year round.” This started a research project that lasted two years and resulted in a plan to plant a portion of the original acreage in Meyer Lemons.
“We knew there were risks from frost in the area but what we had found was that once the trees were larger, most frosts would not damage them.” Smaller trees suffered from temperatures below 28 degrees and some were lost from early plantings. “We had to replant quite a few and have learned a lot in the experience but at this point, many have gotten large enough to withstand most frosts” Dan says.
Having been weaned on JI Rodale’s organic gardening books, Dan was convinced that Meyer Lemons could be grown without any sprays, even organic ones and would respond well to beneficial insect control and organic fertilizers. “We have a lot of lady bugs in the area from when we imported them into the apples and they love aphids and scale, two of the insects that infect citrus regularly. We had one year with a lot of citrus leaf miners but the next year the lady bugs and the parasitic wasps ate them all, I couldn’t find a single one.”
Rodale was a huge fan of using natural manure for soil conditioning but this can present problems in larger farming operations so DMS uses liquid organic fertilizers pumped into the drip irrigation system. “This gives us the most timely way to fertilize because the fertilizer goes directly into the root zone and is available to the trees immediately. And these mixes are sterilized so there is no risk of harmful bacteria from them.” This application of fertilizer is called fertigation because it is incorporated into regular irrigation. “We fertilize once a month during the growing season with small amounts so the trees get an even growth pattern.”
With trees now starting production, DMS Ranch anticipates to see a rapidly growing crop in the coming years. “Meyer’s mature at about 7 years but will continue to grow to 10 years” Doug says. “They will live longer than we do and we hope that their next owners will care for them as much as we do.”
While conventional lemons are washed in detergent and waxed to make them look shiny, DMS lemons are only wiped with a clean rag before shipping so that the skin can be used for zest, candy and toppings on all kinds of foods. “The entire lemon should be eaten” Doug says. “There is no reason to throw away the peel when it makes wonderful zest, candy, marmalade and other delights.”
With all of the care that goes into the trees, DMS Ranch produces the finest and healthiest Organic Meyer Lemons available anywhere but seeing and tasting is believing. Isn’t it time you tried the very best Meyer Lemons?