In an organic orchard, having lots of bugs and spiders around is a great sign that you’re doing something right. Here’s a few photos of some of the myriad species we find in our orchards.
Traditionally, bugs on fruit trees have a bad name, because they might be eating the fruit or damaging the trees, and of course some of them do. That’s why chemical orchards spray insecticides – to kill off the insects that are damaging the crop, like codling moth, pear and cherry slug, earwigs, light brown apple moth and aphids, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, the chemicals also kill bugs that are doing the much more important job of controlling the insects that do the damage! The end result? You’ve removed all the predators that kill the bad bugs, leaving plenty of opportunity for the bugs you don’t want to get out of control.
One of the principles we farm by is diversity – in all things! It’s a basic permaculture principle, to minimise risks and create a more resilient system. So for example, we have more than one water source (dam, soil storage and irrigation channel), we have more than one market (wholesale, farmers markets and online), and we grow as many different types of fruit as possible (90 varieties so far, and still adding).
In the natural world this principle holds even more true. Rather than try to control nature (talk about fighting a losing battle!), we do everything we can to encourage biodiversity, and let them sort it out themselves.
That might seem like a very relaxed approach, but it’s based on a few scientific facts.
For a start, trees that are growing in healthy soil that provides them with complete nutrition are less likely to attract the sort of bugs that like to eat fruit – amazing but true! All we have to do is keep providing the conditions that favour healthy soil microbes, ie lots of organic matter (from a diverse range of sources), enough water, oxygen (ie make sure the soil isn’t compacted), good plant cover, and recharge the soil every now and then with a dose of microbes, to make sure the populations are thriving and diverse.
Insect communities have evolved together over millions of years, and have highly sophisticated and complex ways of interacting and keeping each other in check. While we know a lot about pest insects and predators, there’s much more we don’t know, and we risk upsetting the natural balance every time we interfere.
On our farm we mostly take a physical, and very specific, approach to prevention of pest and disease damage. This sticky tape around the trunk of cherry trees is a great way of stopping earwigs eating the cherries (it also works really well in stopping garden weevils eating nectarines). We use something called pheromone mating disruption to prevent codling moths breeding in our orchard – it’s doesn’t kill them or interfere with the food chain, but it keeps them out of our apples!
So the first rule of preventing pests and diseases on your fruit trees is – DON’T PANIC! Be still and watch for a while, try to figure out what’s going on, and assess whether they are actually doing any damage to your trees or fruit before you come up with a plan of action. Our first responsibility as gardeners is to do no damage to the environment, and that includes our beautiful bugs!