Seed Swaps

MayDay Squared - Apple Aphids and Ladybug Sex

03 May 2012
Storms 29°C / 85°F

Discovered aphid infestation in some of the apples today, they look to be the dreaded “red apple aphid” – worst of the worst. Yet another apple problem I was not prepared to deal with. I’ve never seen this problem before, noticed curled leaves on some of the new growth, opened them up and found the nasties. Turned to reference materials, confirmed the worst and then went into emergency DEFCON 3 mode. Branches badly infested or with many curled leaves were pruned, those with mild infestations or no curls were spot-sprayed with a combo mix of insecticidal soap and pyrethrin (I was careful to move any feasting lady bugs out of the way).

PHOTO: Lady Beetles Afternoon Delight: Doin’ it and Snackin’ on Aphids at the same time.

I would give my eye teeth for some decent spray bottles. I can’t find any that don’t go to shit after a couple of uses, if they work at all. I finally found some that spray really well, but they leak out the handles. Really? Srsly. Get it together, ye manufacturers of cheap and disposable products. I need some decent stuff that actually works.

It rained just several hours after I hit the trees with the soap spray. I hope there was enough time for it to do its work. Guess it’s a wash either way because I’ll have to check and respray continuously now to prevent more damage. At least I caught it before the infestation was too large – though I wouldn’t call it early. Early catch would have been recognizing the pest last season and doing proper prevention starting with winter dormant oils.

Live and learn. That’s me and the orchard. At this point (perhaps it is my exhaustion speaking) I’m pretty discouraged about orcharding. I would NOT recommend people do backyard orchards and I would NOT do this again if I had to start over. My time and money would be better spent purchasing organic apples in bulk and storing them.

The strawberries appear to be very healthy so far. The cherry looks great, as do the raspberries and blackberry.

The Stanley plum leaves are being eaten up by something, I haven’t identified it yet.

2. Detail, leaves at bud clusters curling from aphids. Once leaves start curling, control with insecticidal soaps is difficult.

3. Something is chewing up the Stanley Plum.

4. Fruit set on cherry tree. This tree was sorely infected with some sort of spot and leaf drop last year. So far leaves look healthy. Has received 2 Bordeaux sprays and one fish foiliar spray.

5. Comfrey, blooming. Time to make some tea.




How disappointing – do you think the pest/predator balance might work itself out in a few years? I have a really old apple tree with which I do basically nothing. I’ve been here three falls and last year was a super-fantastic harvest. My theory is that after many years of neglect, the ecosystem around it has pretty much balanced out.

Posted on 04 May 12 (about 4 years ago)

I’m amazed how advanced your zone 5 is compared to mine. Fruit setting trees….wow!
I’m sorry for the pests your finding.

Posted on 04 May 12 (about 4 years ago)


Folia Helper

United States5

That’s an interesting question, Hazel, and an interesting experience on your part. I’ve seen two neglected small orchards and I’ve also seen stand-alone neglected fruit trees. (I don’t mean neglected in a pejorative sense, but only that they hadn’t been maintained with fertilizers and managed for weed and insect pests). Every case was really hard on the trees and therefore the fruit in the end. Bugs and fungi love those fruits even more than we do, so it’s pretty hard to find edible fruits if they aren’t managed (in my experience).

I didn’t realize when I started my orchard that there is a house two doors down with a few plum and apple trees, all totally neglected now for at least 8 years. They are a terrible vector for disease and pests for me.

Fruit trees as we know them are pretty delicate and finicky.They are also heavy feeders, so if the soil in the orchard gets worn out they either don’t produce fruit or are prone to inferior, misshapen fruit.

All that said, the type of permaculture orchard I’m hoping to develop in that part of the yard is intended to establish that kind of balanced ecosystem you are talking about. My plums are going into their fifth leaf, apples are in their fourth. This is the first year I can have any real expectation of fruit and it looks like most of them have a decent fruit set. It’s very exciting!

I’m just feeling disillusioned because I had no idea how much input was required, both time and money. I was warned that I’d have to spray the orchard regularly. That didn’t bother me. Heh. I didn’t realize until after I planted everything that “regular spraying” means every week or two for 6 months or more at a time. I didn’t realize that it would take constant inspection to stay ahead of the pests, to deal with them before they become problems. It’s just a lot of work. I’m getting better each year at keeping on top of it, but it seems each time I learn more about how to manage the trees it’s just another realization of more work to do. And when I find a problem in the orchard, I often feel like I have to deal with it right away or I put the whole system at risk.

I’ll get over it. I do enjoy a challenge, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scope of the project I’ve undertaken (on just a little half acre in the suburbs – how do the real homesteaders do it?!). We had big storms last night and everything is soaked, so I didn’t have to go outside and think about it all today.

Posted on 04 May 12 (about 4 years ago)

The apple tree I have is likely a wild/naturalized apple, and it’s growing right next to the pond (with presumably wet feet constantly) so it is perhaps just a tree that beats the odds in more ways than one. From the looks of it it was pruned back in the day, and is in serious need of restorative pruning (I bought one of those extension kits and the buds are about to open… so I guess I better get on that!) It must be 50 years old and is a standard so even if 2/3 of the fruit is compost, it’s still a decent harvest and many jars of applesauce. Last year I think the drought until early August kept scab and other pests at bay.

My long term goal is to grow a food forest, so I’m really interested in your fruit tree experience. Have you read The Holistic Orchard? I’ve only looked at the preview and it’s on my wishlist for the next time I do a book order. It looks like it might pick up where Gaia’s Garden leaves off on the permaculture as it relates to fruit trees.

We can no longer buy pesticides here (unless I manage to up my farm sales and become a “real” farmer.) Since they were banned for cosmetic use, an unfortunate outcome of preventing people from spraying their lawns is that it makes it next to impossible for anyone except a farmer to spray fruit trees. So I’d only be able to do the dormant oil type sprays anyways I think. I have nearly 12 acres, with a bunch of wild apple trees but otherwise no real neighbouring trees so I think that might be an advantage in that I’m not dealing with neighbours who don’t care for their trees. [As an aside, do you have an organization that harvests fruit from homeowners who don’t want it? Usually volunteers come and they keep a third of the harvest, the other third goes to the food bank, community kitchen, etc. and the homeowner can keep a third. Perhaps suggesting it to your neighbour could at least prevent fallen fruit from overwintering nearby?]

I planted a ‘Montmorency’ cherry three springs ago and there was some fruit last year, but just as it ripened the birds ate it all! I have a net ready for this year. This year I bought two pear trees, but I haven’t planted them yet. I can definitely see how an orchard can feel overwhelming. I am perhaps a glutton for punishment in trying to add one more thing to the mix. I’m hopeful that the chickens, and eventually other livestock, will eat some of the spoiled/wormy/fallen fruit under the fruit trees so that it won’t feel like such a waste if I don’t get to eat it all.

Posted on 04 May 12 (about 4 years ago)

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