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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

On Pests & part IV of “Our Terraces”

This heat wave is showing absolutely no signs of abating, in fact is getting worse, so we’ve been having a bit of a rest day today. The long term weather forecast is predicting a scorcher of a summer too with temperatures well into the 40s, so this won’t be my last mention of the heat this year I don’t think.

As threatened, here comes a word on pests. We don’t seem to be too bad on our plot. We don’t have any trouble with snails and slugs for example. One pest troubling us is ants. We have 2 species: large black ones a small red ones. The latter have a nasty bite and are very aggressive. The main damage they do though is to our trees. As our land had been abandoned for a few years, the trees were not well looked after, suffering disease and being overgrown by ivy and brambles. This weakened them sufficiently for ants to get into them and really wreak havoc. A few trees I have already had to fell as a result. Ones established in a tree, they are almost impossible to get rid of. Fire and/or boiling water kill large numbers, but there’s always an astonishing number of survivors saving the at least some of the eggs of the colony.

Another pest is the black fly. Broad beans inevitably get attacked, however, the earlier you plant the fewer problems you have. I sowed them out in October and have now finished harvesting them. When (not if!) you get the first sign of an attack, it’s on the tender tips of the plants. As soon as you spot this, you pick of those ends, wash off the black fly, boil and eat them (the plant tips that is, not the black fly). If you do this the black fly never take over enough to completely spoil your beans. I have also had a slight attacks on my newly planted cherry tree as well as on the sunflowers, which I’m treating with my own invention of anti-insect spray.

Cultivating everything organically, as I want to eat the produce myself, I don’t use any chemicals to combat pests and diseases, so I have come up with my own recipe for, what is more an insect repellent rather than an insecticide. I had some very old dried garlic powder bought years ago at an Indian corner shop. It was so old it had solidified into one solid lump. I put that lump into a saucepan together with a grated bar of natural lavender soap, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and about a litre of water and brought the whole thing to the boil. Once cool again dilute at a rate of about 10 to 1 with water and spray about once a week onto your plants.

The mixture stinks to high heaven, but has proved effective. Black fly don’t like, nor do the ants, who look after the black fly and aphids. Most effective it has proved to be against a red and black beetle (not a ladybird, a bit bigger and a longer body), which has destroyed my brassica in the last couple of years. I’ve sprayed the stuff onto my Tuscan black cabbage as well as on my Brussel sprouts, and they have stayed away from them since. I still spot them amongst the general herbage, but they stay away from my cabbages.

I dare say it would make a good mosquito repellent as well, if you don’t mind smelling like a garlic salesman on cheap aftershave and don’t mind having no friends… Mosquitoes are of course a problem too. Where we live in Ponzano, we have no problems with them, living on top of a hill, exposed to the prevailing winds and with no standing water near, but on our land we are protected from wind and the insects evidently find places to breed. The most worrying are the tiger mosquitoes who have become more widespread in recent years. It’s not only that there bite is worse than the one of their smaller cousins, but they are also potential transmitters of disease. A couple of years ago there was an outbreak of a tropical disease near Ancona on the East coast carried by tiger mosquitoes and of course with global warming it is not impossible that Malaria will make a re-entry into Italy.

Until not very long ago Malaria was prevalent in Italy, which is one of the reasons why many villages were built up on hills, where there is “bell’ aria” (good air) as opposed to the plains, valleys and marshes where there is “mal aria” (bad air). To this day, when we tell people around here we live in Ponzano Superiore, they’ll tell us: “Aah, Ponzano. C’e bell’aria!”

To finish off on pests, there is the olive fly, which puts it’s little maggots into the olives, but it not enough to worry about. In a bad year 10% of olives are effected, in good year like last year none. Maybe I should try some of my garlic spray on those as well though. Oh, and the white butterflies which lay their eggs on brassica are also deterred by my spray. Other than that we don’t seem to be pestered too badly by pests.

Now to part VI of the continuing story “Our Terraces”: this is terrace number 11.

It’s dominated by cherry trees in the foreground. At the back we found space for one bed, which has a mixture of the above mentioned Brussel sprouts, red onions, Swiss chard as well a few spare courgettes. Bear in mind that all photos of this series were taken on the 25th April, so in the meantime the cherry trees are heavy with fruit.

Terrace 12 has an olive tree in the foreground and more of those wild cherry trees, which have sowed themselves out there. Behind there is a wild plum tree. Don’t miss the next episode of “Our Terraces” as we are nearing the conclusion.

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