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?

 

Too many peaches…

Over Christmas (when everyone took a couple of days off and the picking got slightly behind) a few white peaches got overripe and sadly ended up on the ground. One of the basic principles of keeping your organic fruit trees healthy is picking up all of the fruit that falls on the ground, so they all had to come up!

On our farm we’ve always had a commitment to using every piece of fruit for its highest purpose, so any fruit picked up off the ground is used first for people food. If it’s not good enough for human consumption it goes to the pigs and ducks, or into the compost or worm farm.

Oops … some white peaches hit the deck!

So, having just had to deal with quite a glut of white peaches, this week we want to share with you one of our favourite peach chutney recipes, passed on to us by one of our lovely customers, via the Australian Women’s Weekly “The Book of Preserves” (thanks Robbie).

We modified the recipe slightly when we made it, so we bring you the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens version here (based on what we had in the pantry and the fridge, which is how so many good recipes evolve!). It’s a terrific way of using white peaches, which are in abundance at this time of year.

Mt Alexander Peach and Lemon Chutney
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or 4 small dried red chillies)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 kg organic white peaches (you could use yellow peaches)
3 medium organic brown onions, chopped finely
2 cups organic brown sugar
2 cups organic apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sultanas or currants
1/4 cup dried peel
3 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated lemon rind
1/4 cup lemon juice

If using clingstone white peaches, first simmer the peaches in just enough water to prevent them sticking for 10-15 minutes or until the flesh will easily come off the stones. Cool, and remove flesh from stones by hand, discard peach stones. There’s no need to peel the peaches, just wash them and remove any bad bits before you boil them.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir over heat without boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 1.5 hours or until the mixture is thick. Pour into hot sterilised jars, and seal immediately with sterilised lids.

Goes perfectly with leftover Christmas ham, or give away as a meaningful Christmas present next year.

How much fruit will a tree produce?

We’re often asked how much fruit you can expect to pick from a fully grown tree, particularly when people are planning their garden and trying to decide how many trees they need to supply their family’s fruit needs.

Summer is a good time of year to answer the question, because we have the chance to actually measure (as oppose to guess!) how much fruit a tree can produce. Ella is picking from a 10 year old ‘Anzac’ heritage white peach tree, grown as a vase, and re-grafted onto what was originally grown as a ‘Goldmine’ white nectarine tree. It’s quite mature and at its full size.

You can’t see the full tree from this photo, but a vase-shaped tree normally has 6-10 limbs; this one has eight. Anzacs are notorious for being small fruit, so they need really hard thinning. These trees were thinned hard, but had a touch of leaf curl early in the season which slowed the growth of the fruit early on, and because Anzacs are such early ripening fruit, the result is that the crop is quite small this year.

We pick them into trays like this,and a tray of small fruit weighs about 2.4 kg. From this tree we picked an average of two trays to the limb, which works out to about 35 kg for the tree. About 1/4 of those, or 9 kg, were second grade (the birds had got into them…). Plus, when we picked up all the damaged ones from the ground there were about another 4 kg there that were too damaged to use (but if we’d got to them a day or two earlier some would probably have been good enough for jam or drying). These go to pig food.

So, altogether this tree yielded 39 kg of fruit, which is pretty typical for a large mature peach tree. You can soon see why it doesn’t take very many healthy trees to provide a year’s supply of fruit for your family.

If you want to find out more about the correct time and technique to pick your fruit, check out Fruit to be Proud Of.