Insects in fruit trees – friends or foes?

One of the joys (and constant distractions) of working outside in the orchard are all the fascinating insects that live in our fruit trees. It might be our work space, but it’s their home.

ladybirds in fruit trees
Ladybirds are great fun to watch in the orchard!

Our journey into organic farming has revealed a rich and incredibly diverse world of insects that thrive in fruit trees and soil, and we’ve come to appreciate many of those we previously thought of as pests; each one plays a part in an intricate web of life that is well beyond our understanding.

Our policy these days is not to kill any insects in fruit trees, unless we’re positive it’s doing more harm than good, and only if we’re sure we can be very selective and not damage anything else. The first rule of farming (at least here on our farm) is: “First, do no harm!”

earwig damage to apricot
A European earwig with the typical damage they do to apricots. Definitely a pest…but are they always?

Earwigs are a terrible pest in stone fruit (see what they do to apricots above, and peaches below!), but they also eat woolly aphids, which are a pest in apples, so we’ve decided we can live with them.

earwigs-in-peach-295x221
If you decide some of the insects you find in your fruit trees are foes, rather than friends, the trick is just to keep them out of the trees where they can do damage. (We devote a whole workshop to all the different tricks of the trade we’ve learnt over the years).
Pear and cherry slug are another ‘pest’ that can do terrible damage to…you guessed it…pear and cherry trees (and also plum trees, but pear, cherry and plum slug is really too much of a mouthful), and this year we were monitoring closely, getting ready to treat them, when a predator (some sort of bug, still unknown) came along and ate them all for us!pear and cherry slug

The lifecycle of most insects unfolds throughout the season in the same way our fruit trees do, so in early Spring, we often come across scenes like this…much to the consternation of many a wwoofer! (If you’ve never heard of wwoofers, it stands for Willing Workers On Organic farms…check out our wwoofer photo gallery.)

baby spiders in fruit tree
Thousands of baby spiders are not an uncommon sight in our fruit trees, and they are one of our best defence systems against bugs!

Many of the insects we see are ‘beneficial predators’, which means they eat the bugs that eat our fruit, so we love ’em!

Of course most insects are predators in some way, but we only call them ‘beneficial’ if their diet happens to suit us (as if we are the most important part of the ecosystem!)

spider eating a fly in peach tree
We’ve witnessed many fights between spiders and other bugs in fruit trees – and the spider always wins!

Of course none of us would be able to eat fruit or vegetables without insects, because we rely on them to pollinate the flowers that produce the fruit…

bee on apricot blossom
European honeybees are just one of the insects that pollinate fruit blossoms, like these gorgeous apricot flowers

The web of life is so complex that some insects ‘farm’ the others, to ensure a reliable food source. In the bottom left hand corner of this photo you’ll see one of the many ants that were busily moving and protecting this colony of aphids, so they could enjoy eating the sweet honey type substance the aphids exude.

aphids and ants in peaches and nectarines

And occasionally we get a little reminder that if we’re not careful, we’re not always at the top of the food chain!

baby brown snake

 

 

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