Pesky Pests

Well spring is finally here! Even having arrived about a month late and still remaining on the cool side, spring has still brought along its friends, leaf munching, bud boring, fruit fowling pesky pests!

There can be no denying that winter this year, here in Perth, was a cold and soggy one. The records say it’s the coldest winter in over 20 years, and with a little over 2 months left of this year, we’ve already well exceeded last year’s total rainfall. There have been some interesting results of the longer, colder and wetter winter in our courtyard.  While more prolific than ever, the roses are blooming over a month late and winter dormant plants like the ginger and turmeric have yet to heed the sun’s wake up call, but the most exciting difference of all has been in our apricot tree. It has gone positively bonkers producing flowers, fruit and new foliage!

This is the 4th year in the ground and 3rd fruiting year for our tree. As expected, fruit production was very limited the first year and larger but still on the small side the second year. I was very excited about the bump in fruit last year and went out and counted them all! I don’t remember exactly what the number was, but it was between 40 and 50 fruit, I was ecstatic. So imagine my shear delight this year with an absolute mass of flowering and literally more fruit than I can count (believe me, I tried!). We owe this bump in part to the tree maturing, but also to the wet and cool winter, I have to say the tree is an impressive sight at the moment. All this excitement is tinged with a little apprehension, however, because both previous years we have lost our entire harvest to fruit flies!

We don’t use pesticides in our garden, so we’re trying to tackle the problem biodynamically. We suspect the problem in recent years was not being able to net early enough, while the tree was still flowering, and underestimating the vigor and apricot lust of our local fruit flies when planing when to use organic sprays. So again to this year’s weather, the other blessing the later weather change has bought is a delay in pests. It’s given us more of a chance to try out a few things with our bumper crop while the fruit flies have dragged their heels.

So, what are we trying? We’ve decided on a three prong approach:

  1. Netting – both netting fly netting individual arms to guard against fruit fly, and now that flowering has finished, whole tree netting to protect the fruit from birds and larger pests.
  2. Using a homemade lemongrass spray to deter fruit fly.
  3. Companion planting to deter fruit fly. I’ve got a potted lemongrass which I’ve moved under the tree to add to the lemongrass aroma.

We have the fly nets on some of the arms of the tree, but did find there were too many to cover all of them and this weekend or next we’ll put the whole tree net over. We have also started using a lemongrass foliar and fruit spray. In looking for chemical free sprays I found a recipe that used lemongrass essential oil, not having the essential oil to hand, but with a lemongrass thicket slowly invading the veggie patch, I decided to try and make my own spray. I went and wrestled out a few plump stalks, chopped them up and steeped them in hot water with a little olive oil to help collect the fragrance and help the spray stick to the leaves. The result was a fragrant liquid (though not as fragrant as I’d thought it would be) that I popped in a spray bottle. I then went outside and gave the tree a good and proper dousing.

It seems to be doing the trick so far, I’ll be applying the spray once a week and we’ll see how it goes, but I have high hopes for my homemade spray!

If you’d like to try it yourself, here is the recipe.

You’ll need:
3-4 fresh lemongrass stalks
500ml boiling water
1 tbsp olive oil (or any oil you have)
Refillable spray bottle
Heatproof mixing bowl

Chop you stalks lengthwise and 5 cm lengths, pop in your bowl with the oil and cover with boiling water. Let the mixture steep over night for the best results, I left it 3-4 hours and it was not as fragrant as it could have been, strain and pour into your spray bottle. You are now ready to get spraying your fruit fly susceptible fruit trees!

Good luck with your pesky pests!

x Renée

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