Friday, July 31, 2020

A lime's life (and near death)

marie viljoen terrace brooklyn

Can you spot the blue tape on the Thai lime (Citrus hystrix), middle left? That lime (one of two) has had a rough year. Who hasn't? And July was an especially eventful month. 

On July 5th I repotted. For the second time this year. Post possible fungal infection of roots, post root-pruning way back in January (that was to keep it down to size in the same pot that has to move indoors every winter). The tape was part of my follow up micromanagement of a persistent scale infestation, dating back to winter. So, yeah. It's a survivor. And I won't say post again.

The lime tree is stable, now. I can say it out loud. It's been nearly four weeks and no more dieback. New leaves formed and are maturing.

After the tree was repotted and the scale had gone to meet their maker ("Did he who made the Lamb [really] make thee?"- with apologies to William Blake) I had to think about ants. They returned, scurrying up and down the branches and triggering in me a severe case of OCD. Ants tend scale lovingly: they feed on the scales' honeydew (I've tasted it, it's straight up sweet), moving the little armored insects about and protecting them. So I had to prevent the ants from coming aboard to look after any tiny scale I had missed. 

tanglefoot on tape by marie viljoen

Enter Tanglefoot. It comes in a tub and is an outrageously sticky paste that you smear on tape wrapped around the trunk of trees affected by insect pests. Ants can't pass it to farm their scale flock. And it actually worked. The tip came from Nancy Lingnan, who offers - very good - advice at I turn to her via email when I have run out of ideas. 

In our incredible heat - weeks over 90'F, in direct sun, I found that the Tanglefoot melted and ran down onto the exposed trunk, so I repeated the initial operation, smearing just a little around the top of the tape this time, and bending a moat at the bottom to catch run off. Once it's on the trunk itself it's almost impossible to get off (or your fingers, or anything it touches - use mineral oil).

gin with lime leaf by marie viljoen

We won't enjoy the bumper crop of limes we did last December, but luckily the Thai lime marmalade I made is still going strong. And the beauty of these trees - and please call them makrut, or Thai lime, not the k-word - is that their leaves are famously fragrant and useful. They perfume water, and gin, and salad dressings featuring Asian terrace herbs and spicy pickled vegetables. And then there is curry.

terrace garden in summer by marie viljoen

The chimney swifts' point of view, all of our garden lives exposed below. In this image the tree is left-of-center, bottom, all fluffed out. Its sibling is far right, camouflaged in a subtropical thicket of galangal and myoga ginger. 

And no, no drone was involved in this shot - just a climb up the fire escape and a wide angle setting. 

This is the end of the lime's story, but it's also not the end of the lime. And it's one of those timeless reminders that we learn far more when things go wrong than we do when they go right.

So fail on. In the end, it's more interesting.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Summer's wildness

Some high summer forages, in season when the air turns sticky:

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) - fragrant like orange peel and a little like fresh black pepper (in aroma, not taste). The leaves, twigs and fruit are all useful and flavorful and I deploy them in different ways (see that chapter in Forage, Harvest, Feast). Thus is a wonderful eastern North American native shrub-slash-small-tree for you to grow at home, too.

Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) - an invasive wild raspberry originally from Asia and imported to serve as a rootstock for domestic cultivars. Easily identified in any season by its very furry and prickly canes.

Below the fruit, native wild mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) and an escaped wild pineapple mint. The mountain mint is a wonderful perennial for a sunny garden and pollinators love it. The leaves are intensely, well...pepperminty.

And to the right, the misunderstood and underappreciated native American burnweed. Erechtites hieraciifolius. It is very pungent, slightly bitter, and I love it. The chapter on it in Forage, Harvest, Feast explains much more, but I equate it with cilantro, in terms of love-it or hate-it. This is the time of year when I make a charred chicken stew (the chicken is first fire-seared), a wild riff on a Kenyan classic, that also features spicebush, sumac, coconut milk, and peanut butter! It's incredible. My mouth is watering as I type (it's on page 23 of the book).

Forage on.


(always in season)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


New York in July is a sauna. And we know what it's like to live in a top-floor walkup with no central air conditioning (that was in the tiny apartment attached to the original 66 square feet; it was a hotbox with an overworked and roaring air conditioning unit). Happily, that is no longer the case. At least the central air part. We still have two flights of stairs but that's nothing. Maybe you think having a yacht is a real luxury. Or a holiday house. To me, it's cool air on tap.

But we still sit outside of an evening. Outside is better than TV.

The echinacea and hyssop (Agastache) on the western side of the terrace are very happy.

The stone table has traveled with us since that first garden. To Harlem. To Carrol Gardens, and now here. The single, very heavy slab of fieldstone that is the tabletop for a sidewalk-found iron table frame was a gift from a long-ago boyfriend who is now quite dead (I didn't kill him. Alcohol and unhappiness did.) But his stone slab lives on. It is perhaps the heart of every garden I have made. Even when we had that amazingly long wooden table at 1st Place, the stone table was off to the side, working quietly, as it always has. 

The regal lilies have bloomed. Their scent at night is glorious.

And the fireworks that have shaken our nights are tapering off. But I climbed the fire escape to see them recently, and snapped this picture.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Fund raiser for Net-Maker Angie

[12 July 2020 Update: I am deep in admin mode and will be contacting everyone who donated and ordered nets. Thank you!]

Dear Friends,

I know everyone has donation fatigue, and many are struggling themselves. But I am raising funds so that I can wire a financial support package to Angie, the woman in Cape Town whose beaded nets I buy whenever I am in South Africa.

She and her husband and new baby live in a shanty town and have been hit hard by the pandemic and South Africa's stringent lockdown measures (now easing). They are officially jobless, and are not legal immigrants, having fled to South Africa from a country that is crushed by corruption and a valueless currency.

So here is my idea for a Netraiser:

If you would like one of Angie's nets, and live in the US, Canada, or Cape Town*, please use the donate button at the end of the post. The suggested donation is $10 or R170 per net. State, "One [insert your number] net, please," when PayPal gives you the option to add a message.

*I will pick up nets when I am allowed to travel to Cape Town, again (so you will also need to be very patient), and deliver or mail them to you.

If you prefer to donate, but don't need a net, or live somewhere other than the above-mentioned countries, please state, "No net!"

Aside from a small amount to cover mailing expenses, every penny raised will be sent to her, and I will have the records to reflect that.

How do I use the nets? To cover food. And ferments. Little fruit flies love our outdoor meals and are just drawn to anything acidic, so the nets are used every evening. They are also helpful for covering edible plants or fruits that I am drying on trays. They wash easily (warm, sudsy water, by hand).


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Terrace life and an unhappy lime

Summer is here. And it is warm. Also wet (well, not in this morning picture). July has been as stormy as June was dry.

This weekend's project is to re-pot - again (it was root-pruned in January) -  one of the Thai limes: just to the left of the frame. Something is wrong. Some die-back on twigs. And it has failed to thrive, after putting out a burst of blossoms some weeks ago. Not a good sign at all. 

My only theory is possible root rot. That's when soil remains wet and unoxygenated, and a fungus attacks the roots. Usually fatal unless addressed fast, although I did rescue the Meyer lemon from a similar fate earlier this year. It involves removing all damaged roots (when they disintegrate in your hands you know your root rot diagnosis was correct), washing them off and repotting in a clean pot with fresh potting mix. You water it once and then allow it dry. Out. Completely. Citrus really hate being damp. 

I have been so careful with watering but possibly our storms with straight-down rain, plus a combination of a possible drainage issue in the lime's pot, have complicated things. So, time for intervention.

I have ordered some Organic Cactus Mix from Espoma - it is designed to drain well. I did try a nursery for it, first, but Mr. Billionaire Bezos does deliver the goods. It will arrive today, at the door.  Yesterday it was ladybugs. That's another story.

But now I am telling you all my troubles and that wasn't my intention. Growing citrus never gets boring.