Help for Houseplants, a Great Birdfeeder, and some good news about Goat

Today I come to you directly from a jolly therapy session; half an hour of poking around at our big orange jasmine, scraping off the scale. The therapy is for the plant, not me – those houseplant gurus are thinking wishfully when they say this kind of screwing around has a calming effect. But it does remind me to remind you to go peer closely at your indoor greenery for signs of unwanted life. Midwinter is explosion time for aphids, whiteflies and scale. Like all of us, the plants have had it with short dark days and dry stale air.

The jasmine, a murraya, actually, is also getting a course of drenchings with insecticidal soap. You know the drill: Put the plant in the tub. Spray the hell out of it, being sure to get the undersides of the leaves. Leave it in place overnight. Next day, put a sheet of plastic over the pot surface to protect the soil, weight it with a few shampoo bottles or whatever, so it doesn’t slip, then draw the curtains and give the plant a long, gentle, tepid shower.

Is that it? No it’s not. Once there are enough bugs to see, there are enough bugs to breed, and it usually takes 2 or 3 treatments to get rid of them. Why bother? In the case of the murraya, fragrant flowers all year round, in batches every couple of months. The full name is Murraya paniculata, and they are not all that uncommon – I got mine at a local nursery that offers them every winter.

BTW, the shower part is a good idea even for plants that don’t have bugs… not only will they look better without dust, they’ll be able to absorb more sunlight. Needless to say, this advice does not apply to cactus or to damp-hating succulents like aloes and jades.

* Nothing like fooling around with the houseplants to make you want to head outdoors, to refill the birdfeeder if nothing more. And while we’re out here, allow me to recommend the hanging wire mesh conical collapsing basket model, currently playing at a hardware store near you. They’re terrif: unobtrusive, welcoming to multiple birds and difficult for squirrels to get at – — also hard for larger perching birds, as we discovered by watching one poor female cardinal ( the winter’s loveliest bird, in my opinion) swooping hopefully by the sides without being able to land. To solve this problem , stick a few lengths of thin bamboo stake through the mesh, letting them protrude just a few inches on each side. As long as you choose a very thin stakes, the perches are too flimsy to support anything bigger than a bird.

* And finally, a nice tidbit for lovers of Jamaican food: there is suddenly quite a bit of goat meat around, probably a happy outgrowth of the goat cheese boom. This is not tender young kid, it’s grown goat. Wonderful for curries and stews, but tough and I do mean tough. You’d think a 2 inch piece of anything would get tender after 2 and a half hours of stewing, but if you were thinking about goat you’d be wrong. Don’t forget to start dinner early.

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