At this time of year there’s a tendency to turn from a mild-mannered, pretty easy-going sort of gardener – one who believes in getting along with nature, live-and-let-live in the garden – to a different character altogether. One possessed, you might say.
The reason is simple: our garden is full of greenery, not so full of flowers, productive of veg. up to a point and herbs, and supposedly bringing us a decent crop of summer fruit. But we seem to be at the back of the queue for these fresh, pure, untreated miracles of nature, and it’s getting a bit much to share all of them with our wild friends.
So I’ve squished any number of caterpillars over the past few days. The garden may be organic and wildlife-friendly, but there are limits and I’ve reached them. The sweet basil has been well and comprehensively nibbled, and the old chard, admittedly not of much concern by this stage of the year, has turned into lace:
On top of that (or rather, underneath it) we have an invasion of snails, often to be seen crossing the lawn like a flotilla of slow-moving craft on the high seas just after the irrigation sprays have finished their work.
Here in Egypt, mangoes, grapes and guavas are in season. We have no fruit on the first two, and our guava crop this year looks to be almost wholly spoilt by fruit fly.
2015’s harvest was good. We had a reasonably abundant supply of good quality fruit, if on the small side, with a creamy texture and delicate perfume. So the mushy patches and wormy interiors of this year’s harvest are a huge disappointment.
As far as I can see, many of the fruit, as they ripen, show small bore-holes in the skin and, assuming we get to them before the birds do, when cut open they have the tell-tale signs of infestation. As seen in the photos (above right), part of the flesh has turned brownish and glutinous, and it may also be heaving. Yuck!
We turned for advice to the owner of the farm we visited last winter in Qalyubiyya province, to the north-east of Cairo. Although the land produces mainly plums, there are also guava trees which bear fruit in the late winter. This was a surprise, as I thought guavas were strictly summer fruit. The reality turns out to be more complex.
The farmer immediately identified the problem in our guavas as fruit fly. Asked how to treat it, he suggested three possible alternatives:
i) Spray with malathion. We once did this, but vowed not to do it again as there is no doubt that malathion is dangerous to bees.
ii) Use a container filled with insecticide treated to attract only the male fruit flies, thus preventing reproduction.
iii) [This is the solution practised by the farmer]. Strip the tree of all leaves and fruit during June, thereby forcing it to change the productive season to winter – when there are no fruit flies to infest it.
Simple, effective and remarkably cunning! As a commercial fruit farmer, he is thus able to produce guavas out of season, commanding a premium price. I had thought the trees were a special cultivar, distinct from more ordinary guava trees. Not so, it seems.
Experimenting a bit this past fortnight, I think there may be a fourth approach, which is to wrap each fruit while it is still green in fine mesh netting. This is time-consuming and precarious, given the height of the tree, and it’s also fairly primitive; but I think it may keep the flies away.
Obsessed with bugs, obsessed with finding solutions to bug attacks, I’m not much fun as a gardener nowadays. I’m just wondering if I dare strip the guava tree to its bare branches next June. You never know where a dangerous obsession with fruit, and fruit flies, may lead…
Written for the Daily Post: