Working from home has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. Work is around all the time. The dining room has boxes of files and seed equipment. The table needs clearing and re-laying each day. Benefits though are being able to sort my sourdough while waiting for the kettle to boil, opening my greenhouse more if it suddenly goes much hotter, and counting the sparrows while looking for inspiration as to what to write here! (For your information 16 minus 2 or 3 thanks to the sparrowhawk)
I was prompted by the draft of the JustSeed newsletter to also pick up on a regular review of the estate - which makes it sound much grander than the reality in order to spot trouble before it gets out of hand.
Track, trace and contact!
Inspecting for fruit setting and ripening ready to harvest is part of what I enjoy but regular inspection can also spot issues before they get out of hand. So while you are slowly pouring water glance at shoots and fruits for tell-tale signs - little white winged aphids, aphids of various colours, black ends of fruit, pigeon or caterpillar damage, plants that are failing to thrive.
Whitefly are a common greenhouse pest but can affect other garden plants as well. I realised that I have overwintered some whitefly and aphids on my physalis (Cape Gooseberry) plants. So fed up with repeatedly squashing them, they can multiply very rapidly if left, I decided to do some research as to other methods of reducing their effect.
- Squash and squeeze
- Blast with a water jet to dislodge - better for house plants rather than larger greenhouse plants.
- Home made washing up liquid and oil mixture - tried with limited success - also means grease on window panes and surroundings. Note: Use not in line with EU regulations.
- Soft soap - what is it?*
- Proprietary bug killer - feeling guilty and did use early in the season but not advised near harvest.
- Companion plants to encourage aphid and white fly predators; such as Marigolds - sometimes described as tomato ‘growing secret’ and oregano grown near the greenhouse or near the veg areas.
- Parasitic wasps and insects e.g encarsia which needs to be applied in an enclosed space. These tend to flourish later than the whitefly proliferate.
- Encouraging birds generally in the garden as they feed on a variety of insects both good and bad - blue tits love aphids.
Last year I tried a few brassicas - purple sprouting, heading broccoli, cauliflower and kalettes which I protected from the pigeons with plastic bags tied to garden canes. I had to pick off cabbage white caterpillars - a known problem with brassicas, and still the pigeons took advantage. I got a small crop but the plants looked like they were struggling. This year I have mulched the area with mushroom compost (which has calcium in which brassicas need) and have used a fine mesh protection. The plants are healthy and looking good. The cauliflowers are starting to head. However even having raised the height of the mesh with the aid of sticks and caps there was some pest damage and the leaves of the plants were getting distorted. So I have had to release the sides and leave open. I’m hoping that having the netting over the top will deter the pigeons and that not too many cabbage white butterflies will find their way in. But that’s somewhat naive perhaps.
It is worth being aware of which caterpillars and larvae you do want to cull and which to keep as some become beneficial pollinators.
Editor’s note*Soaps can be made from various sources of natural fats and oils; sodium making bar soap and potassium soft or semi liquid. Made from salts of potassium fatty acids, soft soap is biodegradable, non polluting and readily broken down by bacteria. Its effectiveness on insect control is inconclusive.