I painted the apples last autumn, around the beginning of November I think.
When I say I painted them, I don’t mean artistically, like this great Cezanne (Stilleben mit Äpfeln und Fruchtschale, 1879-1882). I mean horticulturally.
Every time I pick apples from our cordons I swear blind I’m going to take action next year to try and stop the various pests – especially the codling moth, apple sawfly, tortrix moth, et al – attacking the apples. In fact I used to do it many years ago in a previous garden – and it worked – so I know it’s worth the effort. There are quite a few people on the net who agree with me, though most “experts” nowadays insist painting is a waste of time.
The caterpillars, having spent the winter living in the dead leaves and bark underneath the trees, pupate (chrysalis for a bit -> out pops a moth) and then fly up to the branches of the trees looking for a suitable place to lay their eggs – usually on leaves or on the surface of apples. Wingless ones aren’t the ones that get inside the apples, but they can do a lot of damage to the leaves. The real enemies are the ones I’ve mentioned.
When the apples are big enough, the eggs hatch and the grubs bore into them. They then spend about three weeks munching and going to the toilet inside each fruit. Apparently they find the seeds particularly tasty (in fact, 7 out of 10 maggots questioned expressed a preference for the seeds), but that doesn’t stop them making a mess of a significant proportion of the flesh. Then they tunnel their way back out, Colditz-style, and crawl back down the trunk of the tree – and this is where the grease comes in, in my humble opinion – and put their feet up until the following spring.
Which is all very well, everyone has to earn a crust, each to his own, etc., etc. but the thought of chewing a bit of baked maggot with my apple pie doesn’t really do it for me.
So I finally made an effort. Last October I bought some fruit tree grease and painted it all around the trunks, about 12″ from the ground, as per the instructions on the container. (I must confess I did get a kind of sadistic buzz from imagining the caterpillars squirming about in the sticky black goo, but is that so surprising??). Time passed, Russia invaded the Crimea, David Moyes got his P60 and interest rates remained on hold. Blossoms bloomed; they fell; the applets appeared; and so, with the ‘leaders’, the branches, needing to be pruned so that the fruit can get the full benefit of the summer sunshine, it’s now time to examine the fruits of my labour …
Oh dear. I reckon I can see spots. Some brown markings that look suspiciously like the work of the old enemy. Time will tell. But if they’ve been at it again, how have they managed it?
Thinking about it, I suppose if I was a caterpillar I’d probably say “Oh yeah, watch out, lads – fruit tree grease – better use the trellis”. Maybe that’s what it is. They’ve worked a flanker. Climbed down the flipping trellis.
Anyway, it’s just one of those things. Am I bothered?