Sunday, August 4, 2019

The subtropical food forest

This is the mourning doves' view of the terrace. They like to hang out on the roof.

In the lower third of the frame is the unplanned edible subtropical forest. With stragglers along the edges.

It all began at 1st Place with those two big sunny bedroom windows, perfect for overwintering tender citrus, and I chose Thai limes (Citrus hystrix - often called kaffir, the South African K-word; less offensively and more appropriately known as makrut or Thai lime) for their famously perfumed leaves, figuring that the trees were unlikely to produce fruit (I was wrong!).

The two Thai limes now each have about 30 bumpy fruits, whose zest is the most aromatic I know.

The limes were joined by cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), which is almost too successful. I am about to divide it, yet again. And curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) - both bought while I worked on an assignment for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, writing about subtropical herbs. I fell in love.

Who was next? The Meyer lemon, the finger lime, the myogo ginger. And then the two galangals. It's infectious.

They all come indoors in autumn (the link shows their 1st Place winter quarters) and rush for the exit again in early May, or when overnight temperatures stay above 50'F. They relish our muggy summers. The satisfaction of having exotic fragrant leaves and fruit within hands' reach is immense. Especially when these ingredients are hard to find, even in New York.

This week's posts will be all about these plants, their challenges and rewards, and how our apartment-hunt late last summer had to take their needs into account!


  1. Because of your post, I purchased a Thai lime and Meyer lemon tree - and the lime is loaded with fruit. How do I know when it's time to pick them? They're not very big, but are looking very inviting. No lemons yet, but tons of blossoms. And you are so right - the leaves are so fragrant. I also have a fig tree that is starting to bear fruit. Thank you Marie.

    1. The limes have a little bit of give to them when they are ripe, but since their zest is very aromatic, that is the best part, anyway. My Meyer lemons dropped a lot fo fruit but their profuse blossoms made a big difference to our cooped-up winter experience.

  2. Hi Marie
    I've got cardamom too. Do you use the leaves? And what for? I like the smell of the leaves but yet I was afraid to eat them. But here in northern germany there won't be any seeds ever.

    1. Hi Ania - I don't think my cardamom will make flowers and seeds, either... I use the crushed leaves to perfume drinks (even herb-y water) and I love to use the whole leaves when I braise dishes adobo-style (using vinegar), or making curries with SE Asian spices.

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