Caring for our Lemon Tree
In September my family moved back to Southern California from Vancouver, Canada. We moved into a coastal community and into a bright little house with a patch of earth that was small but still large enough to put in a vegetable garden that feeds us pretty well. When we moved in, this ground was barren, except for a chile tree and a couple of straggly snapdragon plants. When I first turned the soil, there was not a single insect to be seen, neither friendly nor unfriendly. There was also a lemon tree here, loaded with ripening lemons. Initially, this was very exciting. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the lemon tree turned out to be heavily infested with both citrus mealybug and scale. For a long time I thought that these two pests were just different life stages of the same insect. The tree was also covered in ants attracted to the sweet, sticky stuff the scale exposed. Sadly, our Meyer lemon tree was on the fast track to death.
I’ve given this tree tons of attention, all organic, of course, and I think we’ve now turned the tide, meaning that the next harvest of lemons will be healthy and unblemished. To rid the tree of bugs we have done successive prunings, starting out timidly and eventually becoming less fearful of harming the tree and losing the harvest. I pruned for the last time in February and the tree is now a shadow of what it once was. This feels fine, though, as it is still covered in blossoms and tiny maturing fruit and I had already noticed how quickly new branches and leaves sprout. I’m not at all worried that my aggressive pruning has been too much.
Every ten days for approximately two months I sprayed, or rather drenched, the entire tree with a contact insecticide that I made up and applied with a cheap spray bottle that I bought at the 99 Cents store. This spray bottle works great because it includes a ratio guide on the outside.
Homemade Contact Insecticide Mix:
- Ratio of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 8 part water
- splash of vegetable oil
- large squirt of Dawn dish detergent
This concoction both suffocates and dries out the pests. The respiratory system of the pest is especially targeted. It is essential not to spray the tree while it receives full sunlight because this can be damaging. Therefore, I always applied my homemade insecticide just before dusk. We also worked hard to rid the tree and the surrounding area of ants. We used a variety of techniques that included pouring both boiling water on ant infested areas far from the tree and its roots, and also a solution of white vinegar and water. More effectively we placed piles made up of half white sugar and half borax in areas of heavy ant traffic. We have made a considerable dent in our local ant population and currently there are no ants on the tree.
As well, I mulched the tree line (avoiding applying the mulch right up to the trunk) with fresh seaweed that my husband, son and I harvested at a local beach. If seaweed isn’t available, a mulch of well-rotted compost also works well or you can check out a garden centre for an organic fertilizer that is good for citrus trees.
Now that things are looking up, we are again excited to have inherited a Meyer Lemon. Most of the lemons have fallen from the tree before they’ve reached their mandarin-crossed orangey color. Still, unripe, they have been delicious and I have a freezer full of lemon juice. I also managed to grate enough cosmetically unaffected lemons to fill an 8 oz jar full of zest which is in the freezer, as well. Although frozen, it’s easy to remove what I need with a spoon. I’m sure that the lemon juice would probably be better stored in ice cube trays, but I’m frugal and I also try to keep my consumption down. Since I don’t have extra ice cube trays, but I do have a lot of empty jars, I freeze my juice this way and transfer a jar to the fridge when I need it. It is unbelievable how much lemon juice my family is consuming-I worry that I am no longer able to drink water straight!
Our abundance of lemons has inspired me to experiment creating new recipes for lemons. I love the challenge of inventing a new cookie or cake. I have been met with success but also some failures. The following is my favorite recipe that I have thus far created for my lemons. I like to bake vegan and I like to keep my treats as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, I also have a sweet tooth. Here are the cookies I baked one recent afternoon:
Mama Is Inspired Lemon Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil cookie sheet.
- 3.5 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (regular whole wheat flour also works well)
- .5 cups White Flour
- 1 Tbsp Almond Meal (could use flax meal instead)
- .5 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- 1.25 tsp Baking Powder
- .25 Cup Coconut Oil
- Milk Curdling Mix: Add 2 Tbsp of Lemon Juice to.5 Cup Almond Milk and let sit for 5 minutes or more
- .25 Cup Almond Milk (in addition to milk in curdling mix)
- 1 Cup Evaporated Sugar Cane
- .5 Cup Maple Syrup
- 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice (in addition to lemon juice in curdling mix)
- .25 tsp Vanilla Extract
- Lemon Zest of at least 1 small lemon
- Chocolate Chips to place tip downward in the surface of formed cookies (optional)
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet and stir together with a large spoon. Using a teaspoon, spoon onto cookie sheets and use a fork to indent cookie as is done with peanut butter cookies (if the fork sticks in cookies, just rinse the fork in cold water).
Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on racks.
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