What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?

Worms in apples are scary and revolting – particularly if you only find half a worm, right?

A classic grub in the apple ... aka Codling Moth larvae
A classic grub in the apple … aka Codling Moth larvae

Apart from the visceral disgust of biting into an apple and finding that something beat you to it and is already living inside, it also downgrades the quality of the fruit.

Apples that have been infected with Codling moth are much less usable, and less valuable for all these reasons:

  • the apples don’t keep as well;
  • infected apples aren’t suitable for long term storage;
  • they’re more likely to be attacked by diseases (e.g. rots) and even other pests;
  • they can’t be sold commercially if infected;
  • they look bad so you don’t want to share them friends and family;
  • having to cut the affected part out before cooking or eating is very wasteful.
Apples riddled with the evidence of Codling moth infestation
Apples riddled with the evidence of Codling moth infestation

If the grubs have left the apple this can be even worse, as it tells you that the grubs were able to complete their life cycle and go on to breed again, perpetuating your Codling moth problem and increasing their population.

So, what to do?

Codling moth is one of the more challenging pests that fruit growers have to deal with, but don’t despair, there is a way! Here’s our 6-step plan for getting on top of them:

  1. First, find out whether Codling moth are a problem in your area. If you already have them in your apples, this one’s a no-brainer, but if you’re new to fruit growing you may need to ask around other fruit growers in your area to find out if it’s something you need to be prepared for.
  2. Learn how to identify them.
  3. Understand their life cycle. Good organic pest management depends on knowing your enemy! Every pest (and every disease for that matter) has at least one weak point in their life-cycle when it’s easy (or at least possible) to intervention that will interrupt them to reduce or prevent the damage they do, and over time to hopefully eradicate the problem.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the many tools you can use against Codling moth – including trapping, banding, pheromone ties, chickens, predator insects, etc.
  5. Decide which one will work best for you, and write your own Codling moth plan.
  6. Conquer the Codling moth!
Codling moth pupae and larve in a trap
Codling moth pupae and larve in a trap

These steps are covered in more detail in the Conquer Codling Moth short course, which also includes a step-by-step process for writing your own plan.

If you already have Codling moth in your apples and are not taking active steps to control them, they’re likely to get worse. Because they complete most of their life cycle inside the apple or hidden in the soil or the bark, they’re not easy for predators to find.

Unless you intervene to stack the odds against them, in un-managed apple trees the problem tends to grow.

Ignore them at your peril!

Earwigs – love them or hate them?

This week we’re talking about earwigs – should we hate them, or love them?

A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree
A nest of earwigs in a crack in a fruit tree

There’s nothing like finding a writhing nest of earwigs in a crack in a peach tree when you’re pruning (watch the video here) to reminder you that it’s time to take some steps to prevent these apparently insignificant creatures from wreaking havoc in your stone fruit trees.

What other insects are in this category? The other main one that causes an issue for a lot of stone fruit growers is garden weevils, but there are lots of insects that can walk into your fruit tree and make a mess, such as harlequin bugs and many different types of weevils.

As we’ve mentioned in other blogs, the key to effective pest and disease management is to figure out how to protect your trees (or fruit, depending on the pest) from the pest, rather than trying to get rid of the pest (which is expensive, ineffective and may even be damaging to your ecosystem).

So, how to prevent them?

Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree
Using sticky tape for earwig control in a nectarine tree

Using our first principles of pest control, first look at their life cycle. These pests overwinter in cracks in the bark in your tree, or in the soil or litter under the tree.

They also love fence lines, bits of wood, or in fact anything lying around on the ground that provides them with darkness and shelter.

In late winter/early spring, young hatch and they start moving and will often head up into your fruit trees as soon as there are buds or fresh new leaves to munch on, even before there’s any evidence of fruit.

The key to controlling them is understanding when they’re likely to be moving (Answer: in late winter/early spring), how they get where they’re going (Answer: they walk up the trunk) and what they do when they get there (Answer: hide in a dark place during the day and come out at night to eat your fruit! Some individuals may leave the tree to return to a nest elsewhere, but they may also just take up residence and stay in the tree, making it hard to get rid off them once they’re there.).

This is the approach we use with all our organic pest control, and the basis of our short course Protect Fruit Trees from Pesky Pests which not only covers earwigs, but also bugs, weevils and all the other common pests.

Once you know all that, figuring out how to prevent them becomes relatively easy – you just have to provide a barrier they can’t walk over, and you have to do it earlier rather than later.

On the farm we do this with double-sided barrier tape, but you can achieve the same result with anything sticky – horticultural glue, or even a layer of grease (but put a physical barrier such as plastic wrap around the trunk of your tree first so you don’t hurt the tree).

If you haven’t experienced earwig damage in your fruit before, here’s just one example (below) of what they can do.

Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach
Earwigs that have taken up residence inside a peach

If numbers build up enough, they can be as devastating to your crop as birds, and really need to be taken seriously. Having said that, as trees get older and larger and bear bigger crops, you may lose a smaller proportion of fruit and the damage is often confined to the lower branches, but it’s still a pest worth preventing.

An earwig inside an apricot
An earwig inside an apricot

So, having decided that earwigs and garden weevils are most definitely a pest, why ask the question about whether to love them or hate them? Surely we just hate them, right?

It’s never that simple! Turns out that earwigs are also a wonderful predator of aphids (particularly the very messy white Woolly Aphids that can appear in your apple trees), which is a great example of why it’s never a good idea to kill insects – just encourage them to hang out where they can do the most good and the least damage in your garden!

What broke my fruit tree?

As spring slowly comes our way, we thought it a good time of year to bring you a series of pest and disease management tips.

This week we’re focusing on identifying the damage that big pests like kangaroos, wallabies, rabbits and hares cause, because they often inflict their worst damage at this time of year, especially on newly planted trees.

Hare damage on a newly planted cherry tree
Hare damage on a newly planted cherry tree

The key to effective pest and disease management is to figure out how to protect your trees or fruit from the pest.

This may sound completely obvious, but in fact is quite opposed to the more conventional approach of trying to get rid of the pest altogether (often with chemicals).

Trying to get rid of pests doesn’t work; it’s expensive, time consuming and frustrating, and in fact every animal and insect has its place in the ecosystem – even if we don’t necessarily want them near our fruit trees!

The first step in our strategy is to figure out what’s doing the damage. It’s one of the basic principles we rely on in the Protect Fruit Trees from Pesky Pests short course (which includes identification and prevention methods for pests that damage both fruit and trees).

This photo above shows what hare damage looks like, and the one below shows a close-up view (pretty gruesome, isn’t it?)

A close-up view of fresh hare damage
A close-up view of fresh hare damage

Kangaroos will also nibble the top of young trees (they seem to find apical [tip] buds especially delicious), though kangaroo or wallaby damage often seems more incidental than purposeful, done by accident as they clumsily jump past the trees, resulting in this type of damage:

Incidental kangaroo damage on a 3 year old tree
Incidental kangaroo damage on a 3 year old tree

Another clue to identify the culprit animal that’s doing the damage is to look carefully on the ground for scats (or poo, as most of us call it).

Kangaroo poo
Kangaroo poo

To help you figure out which animal might be responsible for eating your fruit trees, here’s some photos of other types of animal scats (thanks to ABC Science and The Wildlife Trusts for these photos):

Brush-tailed possum
Rabbits and hares
Droppings are left in clusters of little, round, hard balls. They are usually yellowy-brown or green in colour, and full of grass. Hare droppings (on the right) tend to be slightly bigger and flatter than rabbit droppings (left hand side).
©Darren Tansley