Sleeping with Rumi, and Mealy Bugs on the Lime Tree

Coleman Barks is THE Rumi scholar, and his translations of this wonderful poetry are, in my humble opinion, the very best.

Last night was the first night that I could sense autumn’s approach. The sun set too early. The peepers and crickets had quieted down. When I went outside in a tank top, my skin felt cold. I smelled someone’s wood stove burning nearby. I knew it would get close to 50 degrees by morning, so I carried in all but one of the citrus trees.

Then I made hot tea, and pulled out my copy of The Essential Rumi. It felt like a Rumi night. While my husband watched football commentaries, I pored over Coleman Barks’ translations of the works of this mystical Persian poet.

The first cool nights always put me in the mood for Rumi. It’s funny how seasons always trigger in me a deep need to read one author or another. In June, I need Katherine Mansfield. In September, Rumi. November, Truman Capote.

December and January, James Joyce (and Joyce again in March). I’m also drawn to E.E. Cummings in winter. Spring is Marge Piercy and James Merrill. In summer, I always read authors and genres I’ve never or rarely read before, a lot of metaphysics, cosmology, and biography. And I always renew my subscription to the Sunday New York Times in October (ending it in spring).

Autumn, I won’t lie, is not my favorite season. But it is wonderful to cozy up under a soft blankie with a book of great poetry, some mind-changing non-fiction, or an engaging piece of fiction, and a bowl of hot tea.

Now for the bad news: last night, I spotted the worst thing you could spot on a citrus tree. There were three, big, dead, female mealybugs still clinging to the branches. Mealybugs are no strangers to me. They invade and kill house and outdoor plants quickly and ruthlessly. They move in great numbers, and kill by piercing the plant with razor sharp mouth parts and then latching on, slowly draining the plant of fluids and innards. They are insidious, ugly, and cruel.

That I found three dead females makes it all the worse. Female mealybugs die immediately after laying all their eggs on the undersides of leaves. Shortly after, the eggs hatch, and thousands of young, hungry mealybugs latch on to the plant and slowly destroy it.

A female mealybug will lay thousands of eggs before dying. Three dead females on this young tree means that there are many thousands of tiny eggs present. Sure enough, I spotted the egg sacs under the leaves.

Mealybugs are hard to beat. They have to be killed. If you take no action, the plant is doomed. And they will invade all nearby plants. So last night, I soaked the plant in neem oil. This morning, I soaked the plant twice with an insecticidal soap I make. 

Combine, in a clean spray bottle, a quart of spring or distilled water with a tablespoon of pure castile soap (I use Bronners), and a teaspoon of olive oil. Shake, and spray the entire plant, tops and bottoms of leaves, all stems, and the soil, until it’s saturated. The castile soap breaks down the mealybugs’ skin, and basically kill them by dehydrating them. It’s nasty, ugly work. It involves killing. It sucks. But either the plant dies or the mealybugs die.

There’s no guarantee that the spray will work. Mealybugs are tenacious. And the soap could kill the tree. These are known risks when battling mealybugs. But if you don’t treat the plant, the odds are 100 percent that it will die of the infestation. It’s just bad luck to find yourself battling mealybugs.

So, let’s hope for a win for the tree. I’ve been cherishing these citrus trees all summer, and would really hate to lose the lime. But if I do, it’s another lesson in impermanence. Those lessons keep coming and coming.

Live in peace.

Popular Posts