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?

 

Control your weeds…or not?

We love weeds! Weeds, or understorey plants as we prefer to call them, provide lots of environmental benefits – they shade the ground, provide habitat and food for the bees and soil microbes that are so important for fertility for our trees, and take carbon out of the air and pump it into the soil. And that’s just the beginning of the list of wonderful things about them!

However, there’s also a downside to having weeds under your fruit trees. They use water and nutrients, and they provide habitat and ‘ladders’ into the trees for earwigs and garden weevils. And some weeds are definitely preferable to others, so it pays to make sure you’ve got the right ones. Like most things in gardening and farming, deciding what to do is usually a matter of weighing up the pros and cons.

We reckon the pros of weeds by far outweigh the cons, but to get maximum benefit from them we like to not let them get too long, and try not to let them go to seed. This means they stay active in terms of pumping carbon into the soil, it reduces the amount of water they use, and it’s much more pleasant to work around the trees, but it also means that one of our big jobs in spring and summer is keeping up with the slashing!

We don’t like to to cut the grass too short, and that helps the plants stay in their growing phase too. On a home garden scale, it’s probably easier to use a whipper snipper…

It's important to whipper snip around any trees that will be taped
It’s important to whipper snip around any trees that will be taped

…or best of all, use some animals to eat the grass, and then you get the extra benefit of them turning all that lovely juicy grass into lovely juicy natural fertiliser!

Read more about how to create Natural Fertility for Fruit Trees (within your budget!)

It doesn’t cost anything to give it a go!

Buds are starting to swell and seeds are beginning to germinate…a call to action in the heritage fruit tree nursery. Merv has been busy preparing the soil in the new nursery patch. Katie has been busy selling the last of the beautiful fruit trees that we grew before they come out of their winter sleep and need to be planted in the ground properly again. But now that our saved apple, quince, pear and peach seeds are starting to shoot, its all hands on deck.

This week we planted our cherry rootstock and acquired some compact apple rootstock varieties to experiment with. Along with grafting the cherries in September and budding the apples we’re hoping to experiment with creating a ‘stool bed’. Katie and I haven’t ever done a stool bed so we’re excited to learn this technique from Merv. A stool bed (from my limited understanding) is a way of trench layering a ‘mother plant’ in order to grow multiple root stock trees from a small number of ‘mothers’. This is important for cherry rootstock, which don’t grow readily from seed, and special varieties of rootstock, which you want to multiply true to type.


The plum cuttings are starting to ‘heel up’ (grow a heel/scab over them from which the roots will sprout) which means we’ll plant them out soon . The apple, peach and quince seeds are sprouting so we’ve begun to plant them out in rows. These we will grow up over summer and ‘bud’ in February with a number of different varieties for sale the following year.

We have also been cutting back the trees we budded last February, to the bud union. These trees (see pic) with different colored pipe cleaners are the plum rootstock we budded multiple varieties of plum and apricot onto. Another experiment, which so far seems to be going well…as long as we can keep track of which branch has which variety budded onto it!!

Soon it will be time to sow our green manure crop in the resting nursery patches and sow some more citrus seed in the hot house (yet another experiment). Most of the rootstock we grow, except for our experiments with cherries, citrus and small apple rootstock, we have grown ourselves. We either collect seed or take cuttings to create them, and like Merv always marvels, “it doesn’t cost you anything”! There is a lot of time and care that then goes into turning that seedling into a good fruiting tree, but Merv’s right, it doesn’t cost you anything to give it a go!