|~ Plum fruitlet and curly leaves ~|
I've chosen to follow all the fruit trees that I'm growing here in the garden; in the past month, the trees that have been causing the most concern are the plum trees. The new leaves have been targeted by aphids whose sap-sucking activities cause the new leaves to twist, curl and, ultimately, die. Squishing is not an option with a 10 foot tall tree but I have been reading up organic measures that I can put in place for the future. I haven't seen many lacewings in the past few years and these, as well as ladybirds, love to dine on aphids. Apparently tying rolls of cardboard to the tree will provide a daytime shelter for them and planting tansy, fennel, marguerites and cosmos nearby will also help. No problem there - I'd love to see my fruit trees surrounded by flowers and, luckily, I have seed trays full of cosmos and marguerites.
I also read that an anti-aphid spray can be made by boiling up rhubarb leaves and using a dilution of the liquid to spray the insects. The oxalic acid content (which makes the leaves poisonous to all, even people) causes the heart to stop and so the insects die. It sounds good but I don't know if this will also affect the fruit (or me!) so have decided against this. Last year I was told by fruit growers at a local nature reserve that a squirt of Ecover washing up liquid in water used as a spray was what they found effective. (I'd forgotten about that until I re-read this posting!)
By working in the garden on my own during a quiet day, I realised that a much better alternative was being provided by nature. The tiniest of birds in the garden, the Blue Tits, are flying in and pecking off the aphids (well, okay, probably the leaves as well but I don't mind.) I've seen them doing the same to the rose bushes at the other end of the garden but then they'd been very timid. One of these little birds became less timid during the day as he flew back and forth but I worked very quietly just in case!
I'm keeping a careful eye on the trees as they're looking a bit the worse for wear now; the affected leaves are going brown which will reduce photosynthesis. Apparently once the aphids fly off (to another host plant), the tree should recover. So, how to help this recovery? Bob Flowerdew, the organic gardener, advises that all fruit trees benefit from a nitrogen boost in the soil; beans and peas return nitrogen to the soil. Nasturtiums are also a good companion plant as aphids are drawn to their succulent leaves (although do I want more aphids around my trees? No.) I think the answer is to use the trees as climbing frames for tall beans and see how that works out. Also to water well so that the tree isn't stressed and to remember to mulch the roots (but not the trunk) in early winter.
The good news is that, so far (but we still have the famous 'June drop' to get through), the fruitlets seem to be holding on and there are a few growing...
...Unlike the pear trees where the leaves are unaffected and looking very healthy but I've only found one fruit spike left from all that earlier blossom - and I think that's since dropped off!
The cherry trees are also promisingly dripping with fruitlets. I'm expecting quite a few of these to drop because that's what has happened in past years although there were loads left to pick! I've also had to remove a small branch from the corner cherry tree as it had died but the rest of the tree seems okay.
The apple trees are also looking really good, with just one leaf (that I could find) having a few woolly aphids; lots of ladybirds on the apple trees should keep this in check but I'll keep an eye on it. There was just a hint of blossom remaining on 29th April when I took these photos but, again, lots of tiny fruitlets have developed which have withstood the funnelling winds we had last week. I have strawberries, pelargoniums and borage planted around these trees and seen lots of bees buzzing around so I'm guessing this all helped with pollination!
And, finally, I have to give a big thank you to Victoriana Nurseries for the wonderful quince tree (Cydonia oblonga 'Champion') that they delivered earlier this year. It's established really well and makes me feel happy every time I stop to look at it!