Could grasshoppers be eating your fruit?

If you still have fruit on your trees this summer, you may have seen this type of damage on it:

Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach
Grasshopper damage on a clingstone peach

It’s caused by grasshoppers (or more unusually, locusts), which can become quite a problem from about mid-summer onward.

A locust on the window of our packing shed
A locust on the window of our packing shed

They can also eat leaves quite badly, as you can see from this devastated little plum tree.

Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers
Leaves stripped from a young plum tree by grasshoppers

As bad as it looks, a tree can survive this damage late in the season, because it’s already done most of its growing for the year. This damage happened a couple of years ago to this plum tree, and it came back in full leaf the following year, and has continued to grow and become very productive.

Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage
Plum tree recovered after grasshopper damage

However severe damage can also kill really young trees, or if the trees are completely stripped of leaves too early in the season, so the next question is, is there any way to prevent the damage?

One way to combat them seems to be keeping the grass cut (or eaten down by animals) under the trees, but this can have limited success.

A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm
A chicken on earnest bug eating duty on the farm

The best method is to use some animal friends to do what they do best! Chickens and other poultry just LOVE to eat grasshoppers, so if you can confine them around your fruit trees, even for a brief time, they can help to clear up a grasshopper problem very quickly.

This is just one of the ways that animals can be really useful to help you
successfully grow organic food. We’ve put together a short course called Fruit Tree Care for Animal Lovers to help you explore all the ways you can go into partnership with your pets to grow better food.

Netting options for backyard fruit trees

Fruit damage from birds, bats and possums is high on the list of complaints from home fruit growers. This week we look at various netting options,and how they can protect your crop from most of these problems.

The birds left us the stems!

Our new cherry trees are now producing fruit (hooray), and even though we drape netted some of them, it wasn’t completely successful – partly because we were a bit late getting some of the nets on, and partly because the type of birds that were giving us a hard time (parrots) are also particularly clever at getting under drape nets!

So, successful netting is not just about doing it in a timely fashion, it’s also about having the right system for your situation.

Another big advantage of netting your trees is providing some protection against hail, and if you’ve experienced hail before, you’ll know what we’re talking about! Hail storms are a pretty common occurrence on the farm and we lose at least some fruit to hail most seasons.

This is what hail damage looked like on our apricots last year:

Hail damage on apricots

Birds not only damage the fruit, but can help spread brown rot as well. There are lots of different ways to try to scare birds away, such as CDs hanging in the tree, fake predators and the like, but the only real solution is to net your trees – the sooner we all resign ourselves to this necessity, the happier we’ll all be!

This simple net below is made with a frame of star pickets and pipe, and is the easiest and most effective solution we’ve seen (and used).

It’s easy to put up (and take down again if you choose), and easy to peg down around the perimeter to stop persistent smaller birds getting in under the net, which can happen with drape netting (as we saw this year!). This particular set up also has wire netting around the base, which can be useful for stopping larger animals from getting into the enclosure.

Drape netting is easier if you are doing a lot more trees, and is very effective against big birds, and can also deter fruit bats, both of which descend on the tree from above and don’t like to get in under net.

Unless you are really diligent about tying off the net around the trunk, it won’t stop smaller birds like parrots, which are happy to nip under the edges of the net and help themselves. Having said that, it does keep the damage to minimum and is definitely worthwhile.

Learn practical strategies that actually work to protect your fruit from birds and other critters in Protect Fruit from Pesky Pests.

Tiny, annoying Rutherglen bugs

A couple of years ago we (and everyone else trying to grow fruit on the east coast of Australia) had a plague of these tiny bugs—have you seen them on your fruit?

They’re called Rutherglen bugs. They are tiny and a nuisance, and unfortunately there’s very little you can do about them. They’re a sapsucker, and if there are enough of them they can suck the juice out of your fruit and cause it to shrivel up.

The year we had a plague, some of our peaches had so much juice sucked out that they weren’t usable, but most were. The bugs can leave a slightly sticky residue on the fruit as well, but this washes off.

Interestingly, we’ve barely seen them since, which is often the way with ‘plagues’—they’re really just the result of an imbalance in the ecosystem that has temporarily favoured one insect over another, but they usually quickly get back into balance and numbers go back to normal (i.e., hardly , any).

Why does this happen? Mainly because they have a lot of predators, and nature tends to get these population explosions under control all by herself, as long as we have decent biodiversity in our gardens, and IF we don’t mess things up by using pesticides.

But, in the meantime, when you are experiencing an outbreak it would be nice to protect your fruit, right?

 

There’s a few things you can do:

  1. Hose the tree when it has a large swarm of bugs on it. This should discourage the bugs on the tree at the time, but if there are lots around in the garden the tree will probably be re-infested;
  2. If you have chickens or other poultry, confine them to the area around your fruit trees if possible – they will make short work of the bugs but, as above, if there are lots of bugs around, the tree may be re-infested when you
    remove the chooks;
  3. Protect the tree with a very fine net—the same sort you would use to prevent fruit fly getting to the fruit (because as you can see in the photo below, they easily get through regular size bird netting);
  4. As an absolute last resort, you can try a home-made organic spray, but be very careful if you do this, it’s easy to do more harm than good by accidentally killing the predator insects that will be eating the Rutherglen bugs, and you may just be perpetuating the problem.

So, the key message is don’t worry too much about them as there’s little you can do!

Concentrate instead on the long-term solutions for these bugs and all the other pests as well, which are (1) continuous soil improvement, and (2) continuous biodiversity improvement. In our experience if you stick to those principles, most problems like this are short term.

We go into more detail about the lifecycle, identification, prevention and treatment of Rutherglen bugs and 14 other common pests of fruit trees (including some recipes for home-made sprays) in What’s Bugging My Fruit?