Healthy crops provide the fruits of our labours

Watch plums for aphids.
Watch plums for aphids.

Several of the garden soft fruits are ripening, and we’ve negotiated June without losing too many apples or plums.

In the greenhouse, peaches will be ready for eating in two weeks, and there’s an almighty crop on the grape vine.

Strawberries are doing well.

Strawberries are doing well.

Given a little attention to detail over the coming weeks the fruit scene should turn out quite rosy.

Strawberries always seem to taste that little bit better when they’re picked well in advance of Wimbledon, and true to form, first fruits of the year for us this time were ready before the end of May but they were not grown out in the open.

You can crop them early under a poly-tunnel as most local gardeners do but ours were raised the age-old way in pots under glass.

Ten established plants were dug from the garden in February, potted-up and placed in the cold greenhouse. Daily checks for aphids and regular watering is time consuming, and if that is balanced against a return of five to eight decent fruits per plant, you might ask ‘why bother?’ The first symbolic taste always answers the question for me!

The strawberry bed is very productive right now and for once we’re not sharing the crop with blackbirds, thanks to some decent netting. The runners that will lead to next year’s young plants are already developing and when conditions are moist they will take root themselves, all we need do is select the best in early September and plant them in formation.

But if dry weather persists, place a small pot of compost next to the parent plant and peg the tip of a runner into it, watering occasionally if necessary.

Our friendly blackbirds have indicated that the raspberries are ripe by taking up residence around that bed and clucking contentedly. There is a net draped overhead but they do have limited access from below. When there’s such a large crop you can bend the rules a little!

Red and blackcurrants are ripening early for us this year. Gooseberries are beginning to swell too. The latter could be thinned-out now if we were after big fruits, those picked being used in a pie. However, I’m more interested in daily inspection to ensure the sawfly has not laid eggs under the leaves. The larvae can defoliate a bush in 24 hours.

Aphids can be a complete nuisance both outdoors and under glass when soft summer growth abounds. They’re not fussy when it comes to plant choice either. Ornamentals, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes, vegetables – if there is soft plant tissue around, their proboscis will find it. Although we refer to them as greenfly they come in other colours too, eg grey aphids on cabbages or an infestation of black ones on broad beans, which we eradicate by removing the tips.

Fruiting and ornamental cherries, plums and apples are the subject of aphid attacks I’m being asked about most at present. My cooking apple Lord Derby is carrying a good crop but last week I noticed that some leaves were curling inward. Close inspection revealed a spun web and beginnings of a pale covering – a type of wooly aphid no less. A soft soap solution is harmless to us and aphids are allergic to bathing, so it was loaded into a hand sprayer and applied. As Corporal Jones would say, ‘They don’t like it......’

Plum trees are being attacked by a leaf-curling aphid, but this is not unusual. The fruit will still develop and ripen.

However, if the tree is grafted onto the dwarfing Pixie rootstock, some of the most affected shoots within reach can be pruned out. Combining this with a soapy spray is a safe way around the problem.

Aphid activity is most difficult to control at the height of summer when winged females take to the air. Their feeding method in extracting cell sap transfers diseases between plants. Furthermore, as they feed, a sticky substance (honeydew) is exuded. This encourages sooty mould and eventually, dieback. Another reason to remain alert!

Tell-tale signs of aphid presence are; leaves curling near the tip of a shoot, or a group of white flecks on leaves which are the skins they discard as they feed and grow.