Friday, 20 June 2014

When aphids attack: How to build an organic defense

Disgusting: Aphids colonising the plum tree
The other day I was out in the garden and pottering about with a cup of fresh mint tea making a mental list of tasks that needed doing when it occurred to me that the fan-trained Marjorie's Seedling plum tree that I planted in a raised sleeper bed appeared to have rather lumpy branches. There were tiny green lumps lining the new growth. A closer inspection sent me panicking in the direction of the garden gloves. Aphids! My poor plum was literally crawling with aphids! 
The cats had recently declared open season on ladybirds despite my discussions with them about how ladybugs are our friends because they eat pests (yes, I'm the kind of crazy cat lady that lectures her feline family on the pros and cons of eating different garden bugs). And I knew that aphids spread terribly quickly. An adult aphid can give birth to hundreds of others and if you reach critical mass, say goodbye to your garden. 

 
Rogue aphid on a raspberry cane
Clearly action was called for. But I was loathe to reach for pesticide sprays or even a washing up liquid solution. And whilst I love the idea of buying boxes of ladybirds and releasing them, I wanted to try to prevent the spread immediately rather than wait for the post. A quick check of my other plants shows that with a couple of exceptions that had escaped the plum and fled to the raspberry canes, the aphids seemed to be concentrating on the plum tree alone for the moment. So I tried the most direct route to get rid of them that I could think of: picking them off by hand and squishing them. 

Watery graveyard for aphids
Disgusting doesn't even come close. It was a horrible way to spend a couple of hours And depressing to boot. But I have to say, it worked. I put the dead aphids into a bowl of water and washing up liquid (along with a few shoots so densely infested that I didn't think I could pull the bugs off individually) and to my amazement, it worked. The aphids haven't really returned and maintaining a watch appears to be protecting my plants in an organic way, which is to say, without having to resort to using sprays and chemicals. 
The aphid-free plum tree

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