It should have been an easy mechanical fix: attaching grease bands around the bottom of the trunks of our fruit trees. These are supposed to trap winter moth caterpillars and maybe also ants which ‘farm’ the aphids which have so badly infested our mini-orchard these last two years.
I used pre-greased bands, basically a sticky strip that you open out and wrap around the trunk. Simple … except the sticky stuff stuck to my fingers, then to the wrong bit of the tree, then to the scissors I was using to cut the band, and finally to the bands themselves (like micro-wrestling with Sellotape, only worse). You need to bind the bands around tightly so the beasties don’t just sneak underneath, but tree trunks have bumps and crevices to get in the way. I was doing this with cold, sticky fingers on a very windy day: you can imagine …
I have the funny feeling that the final score will be: ants and moths 1 human ingenuity 0, but at least any success on my part should be visible in the form of squished ants and moths stuck on this infuriating glue. Satisfying … if it works.
I explained the principles of this to one of our regular young visitors on her way home from the local primary school, but she had no sympathy for my difficulties: “That’s SO cruel to ants!” Rather indignantly I pointed out that ants enslave aphids to suck juices from the leaves so that they (sneaky old ants) can get the honeydew secreted by the aphids. “Yes”, said a passing dad, warming to the theme, “they even dismember ladybirds which might otherwise eat the aphids. And they eat the legs, dissolving them in acid.” By this time, several other children were staring in horrified disbelief and I felt it best to move on to the topic of winter washing.
In my best teacherly voice, I explained that I’d just sprayed the trees: “trees can’t wash, so before they go to sleep in the winter, and we have to wash them down, so they’re clear of insects”. I showed them the sprayer. They were intrigued and successfully distracted. No trapping, no melting of limbs … they were ready to sing the trees a lullaby. But then they asked what was in the ‘Winter Wash’. I said I thought it was seaweed.
I’ve just checked on the RHS site: it’s concentrated plant oils … so far so good … which “block the breathing pores of small insects and mites”. Oh dear: so basically … winter washes are about suffocating ants and aphids. I think I’ll stick with the seaweed explanation.
For those who want them, here are the gory details of looking after fruit trees :
- More winter wash (February)
- Check grease bands and top up with Vaseline
- Foliar feed (March) – this is the seaweed spray!
- Pheromone trap for codling moths (May into the summer)
- Inspect trees for aphids and ants
- Squish aphids and ants between thumb and index finger
- Spray with soapy solution or organic pyrethrum spray
- Foliar feed
- Replace grease bands
A good site for natural solutions to aphids on fruit trees is Natural Living Ideas but the most comprehensive ‘no-holes-barred’ presentation of pests and diseases on fruit trees is http://www.fruitwise.net/pestsanddiseases.html . It might need a ‘parental guidance’ warning, though. Here’s a flavour: “Companion planting, biodynamics or singing to the trees does no good-if you have rosy apple aphids, death is the answer-kill them all”.