Lacewings, hoverflies and ladybirds
One of the most damaging group of insects comprises the various types of aphids. There is no need to resort to repeated annual chemical control measures as long as the various natural predators of the aphids are living stably and comfortably in the orchard as well. These predators include lacewings, hoverflies and ladybirds. Provided there are enough of them in the orchard environment, the aphid population will never be so great as to cause serious damage to the fruit tree foliage and the fruit itself. So the point is to build up the predator level in order to keep, for example aphids numbers down.
Ladybirds, earwigs and lacewings will do their best to stop greenfly of all sorts from gaining the upper hand and ruining the leaf surface. Damage to leaves makes it more difficult for trees to make their various foods. Encourage the lacewings, ladybirds and earwigs by providing them with homes to live in and do not kill them off with harsh chemical sprays. There are plenty of sprays which can be used in the gardens and small orchards, based on organic principles, which will do this job very well.
This can be done in various ways:
– providing homes for natural predators, such as lady bird boxes and lacewing hotels (the photo above shows an insect hotel);
– making space for a couple of beds of well-grown companion plants such as chives, pot marigold and alpine strawberries
During the winter months, gardens are the most important places for birds to find that extra bit of food to keep them alive and well and get them through cold, damp and frosty periods. Bird tables don’t take a lot of effort to make, either by yourself or your partner. It is amazing how much we can learn from the behaviour of all these birds, they have their own likes and dislikes. Once spring arrives then these little birds repay us by clearing up all sort of niggly problems such as aphids and caterpillars which feed on the trees that we have just planted or are nearly ready to harvest. It is a good idea to place nest boxes at the right height in the trees for the various tits. Make sure that the entrance is woodpecker-proof and cat proof.
– removing any bypasses such as tree suckers and/or tall weeds (for winter moth control).
– taking orchard hygiene seriously, in order to keep the number of trees infected by various diseases at as low a level as possible.
This last point is of the greatest importance. If during the growing season, fruit and leaves were seriously infected with various pests, such as codling moth, sawfly, or diseases such as scab and mildew, then the early removal of these fruits and leaves after they have fallen on the orchard floor in late autumn is the most effective way to reduce infection levels at the start of the next growing season and to bring balance back in the orchard environment.
Now, if you have a nice little orchard with wire netting around it, keeping the chickens in, then most of these wingless insects will have been consumed by the chickens. There is no better way of biological control of various pests, than having lovely egg-laying chickens settled in your orchard. What’s more it is a wonderful way of not only daily collecting the chicken eggs, but also at the same time keeping an eye on your beautiful fruit trees.
Help from hedgehogs
If you have trouble in your garden with slugs and snails, make your garden desirable to hedgehogs; your slugs and snails problems will magically disappear! But how do you make your garden desirable to hedgehogs?
Hedgehogs by nature do move around a lot. Therefore if the garden is fenced in, do make sure there is a wide enough gap at soil level, roughly the size of a football, to allow the hedgehog to travel. Secondly a hedgehog needs rough corners or patches in the garden where it can hide. They love a mixture of semi-wooden plant material, dry grass, which can also provide warmth during the winter months. Here in the UK there is a hedgehog club, which actually sells hide-outs or will provide drawings showing how to make one yourself. Hedgehogs love snails and slugs, that’s their staple diet. So never spread around slug pellets as it will kill them or make them seriously ill. If you like to feed them, use cat food but NEVER milk on a saucer. An ultra-tidy garden does not offer anything of interest to hedgehogs.