Friday, 7 March 2008

Do I Spray?

The Weekend Farmer asked:
"Do you spray your trees to keep the bugs off? We have a few fruit trees...but the fruit gets violated before they can mature and we don't get anything for the house".
I have been tempted but so far have resisted. I believe that using insecticides in an indiscriminate or prophylactic way could lead to more problems in the long run.

Having said that I have used Bordeaux and Lime Sulphur sprays on the stone fruits when they were dormant but only once with each spray about five years apart. This was to help combat Curl Leaf in peaches and Brown Rot in the stone fruits but these no longer seem to be major problems.

I prefer to increase the plants' natural resistance and general health. While this can be difficult to maintain at times of stress throughout the plants' life eg. drought, floods and other natural phenomena that are out of our control, generally healthy plants/trees can withstand some insect attack.
A good tonic for plant health is seaweed extract sprayed at regular intervals during the growing season. If you are not in a commercial situation it's often better (and healthier for you) to allow for some wastage of harvest to pests.

Gradually (and it does take time) natural predators will visit your garden and take up residence. These predators must have a food supply to lure them into your garden. They also need breeding areas so studying their life-cycles is important too. This is where companion planting comes in. This doesn't only mean grouping plants together for the benefit of those plants but also using plants/flowers to attract and house the 'good guys'.

Clockwise from top left:
Elderberry Sambucus nigra
Parcel Apium graveolens var. Secalinum
Coriander Coriandrum sativum
Sunflowers Helianthus annuus

I have a post here on using Companion Planting Around Fruit Trees.
I used many of these plantings while our fruit trees were being established. The most popular ones have umbrella shaped flowers such as Fennel, Dill, Coriander, Caraway, Angelica, Tansy, Queen Anne's Lace & Yarrow also allowing carrots and parsnips to flower.

I have also found ladybirds favour the large lavender and wormwood bushes that I have growing in the edge beds of the vegetable growing areas. The Asteracae family - the plants with daisy type flowers are useful too.

Ripening Black Mulberry
and Black Sultana Grapes

You also need to build up the health of your soil.
Again this takes time but is best achieved by the use of natural materials, the best being homemade, good quality compost using a variety of materials and including some that have been brought onto your property. This allows the inclusion of nutrients that may be absent in your soil. Even bringing in straw or manure will do this but be careful these are often the source of unwanted weeds as well. This compost is used around the trees and covered with mulch to slowly breakdown during the year feeding the trees as it goes.
A basic guide to compost making is on this link.

The Main Vegetable Garden Pond; in less dry times!

Setting up your garden with nature in mind helps too.
Water is important for birds and insects...indeed many insects spend some of their life cycles in water so it is vital to have some around. Small ponds and bird baths are very useful for attracting these helpful creatures.

Clockwise from top left:
Early season photos of:
William Pears
Stella Cherry
Golden Delicious ApplesUn-named Fig

Which brings up another problem of birds stealing the fruit.
You need to see the balance here too. Lately our garden is alive in the evenings with Wattlebirds and Noisy Miner birds diving through the fruit trees grabbing moths and other insects as they go. It's wonderful to watch them 'play' much more entertaining than TV.

We get more than enough of the fruit and these helpers deserve a little of the harvest...but we do net (see here) some of the favoured trees that we don't want to share the fruit of.

We now house chickens under the fruit trees and have extended their area to include most of the fruit trees in the main veg garden. The chooks work very well at reducing pests and cleaning up fallen fruit which can become a breeding ground for pests.

I guess what it boils down to is getting a natural,
balanced system going in your garden.


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