The Land Rover Owners Wife

Gardening Club: Spikes, sprays and caterpillars.

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Pop bottle sprayer - a very nifty device to have to hand

Pop bottle sprayer – a very nifty device to have to hand

On my daily inspection of the school polytunnel earlier this week, I was horrified to spot tiny little holes on the leaves of some of the chili plants. Closer inspection revealed quite a number of tiny 3mm to 5mm long caterpillars, happily munching their way through the leaves. With no pesticide (organic or chemical) to hand, I resorted to the tried and trusted method of squishing the blighters but I knew that I wouldn’t have got them all and I needed to find a solution and fast.

As we are trying to be as organic as possible and not wishing to harm the friendly bugs in any way, a chemical solution really wasn’t an option and so I set my mind to finding a reliable Organic pesticide. A few years ago Mud and I had discovered a fabulous organic product which I think was called ‘Natures Answer’. Our tomato plants were invested with caterpillars and so we had popped out to get a spray to deal with the problem. We sprayed the plants on our return and within half an hour, every caterpillar plus a few more pests, were lying lifeless on the compost at the base of the plants. It was phenomenal stuff but, for some reason we can’t get it now.

So I spent some time on Google trying to find an effective product and made a shortlist of the organic products which claimed to deal with caterpillars, as well as the usual aphids etc.

Armed with my shortlist of three, I dropped Middle Mudlet at a party she had been invited to and headed to the garden centre. After 20 minutes of looking for organic pesticides I came to the startling conclusion that this garden centre didn’t stock any, or if they did then they stocked it in such small numbers it had all been sold. There were dozens of chemical based products, each proudly detailing the pests they were designed to deal with and a few of them included caterpillars but there were only 2 organic products displayed and neither of them listed caterpillars as prospective victims.

The school strawberry plants are doing really well.

The school strawberry plants are doing really well.

Maybe I was just being dense, I thought, maybe there was a whole section dedicated to the organic removal of pests which I hadn’t come across, after all it is a very big garden centre and it’s hard enough finding plants among the stock which seems to consist mainly of candles, jewellery, ornaments, books and pet care items these days. Trying to find anything as specialist as organic garden bug spray was near impossible.

So I asked and assistant.

“Nope,” he assured me,”this is the only area for garden pesticides!”

Great!

However, he did ask an older assistant if he could recommend a product safe to use on vegetables and this assistant asked someone on the other end of his walkie talkie. But alas, there was nothing in stock that would be suitable.

“But,” the older assistant informed me, “we do have a recipe for a home made tomato leaf based pesticide. I’ll get you a copy of that!”

This sprayer is very easy to attach and use

This sprayer is very easy to attach and use

Okay, that was novel, an employee giving me a recipe to make my own pesticide rather than trying to persuade me to buy one of the non-organic alternatives. Very refreshing.

Whilst I was at the garden centre, I did manage to pick up a brilliant contraption which turns a normal, everyday, 2 litre pop bottle into a sprayer. It cost the princely sum of £1.99 and simply screws onto the top of the bottle. There is a thin plastic tube which attaches to the sprayer part which sits in the bottle and then once it has been screwed firmly into place, a few pumps of the lever at the back, press the button and a fine mist comes out. It really is a great product from Gardman.

I'll be trying these out in the Courtyard over the next few days

I’ll be trying these out in the Courtyard over the next few days

I also bought a 6 pack of water bottle spikes which I intend to used in the Courtyard planters. These spikes are also fitted to the top of a pop bottles, although from reading about them on the internet, 1 litre bottles are best as 2 litre ones tend to collapse after a while. Anyway, basically these spikes are put into the soil in a planter or pot or some such thing, with a bottle full of water attached to it. The idea is that the water is released slowly into the ground over 1 to 3 weeks and keeps your plants happy. I can access all areas of the garden during the summer break most days during the week except for the Courtyard. I can only gain access to that if there is a member of staff about, so these should help keep the plants alive until I can get to them again.

So armed with my purchases and the recipe for the tomato pesticide thing, I headed for home.

Of course being the curious sort that I am, I decided to Google the effectiveness of the tomato pesticide when I got home and discovered, to my dismay, that due to the highly toxic nature of the leaves, it really wasn’t advisable to use it on the vegetable plants! Arrggghhhh.

Back to the drawing board.

Fortunately, during my Google search I came across a site which recommended a simple solution of salt water to deal with the caterpillars and so I made some, decanted it into an empty 2 litre pop bottle and sauntered off to the polytunnel. With temperatures in the high 20s again, I wasn’t surprised to find some very thirsty looking plants waiting for me. A quick inspection also revealed more caterpillar damage on the chili plants and one of the kale. So I attached the sprayer, pumped the handle and then let rip and I have to say that the caterpillars and the odd blackfly that came into contact with the salt water, didn’t look too happy.

By the time I left the school grounds, I had squished a few more caterpillars (well you can’t be too careful where these blighters are concerned) and moved any tray with caterpillar damaged plants in it, away from the rest of the plants and then spaced the remaining trays so that no leaf from another tray was overhanging or touching, thereby reducing the ease with which any remaining caterpillars could crawl across and start feasting on, as yet undamaged plants.

A few large courgettes

A few large courgettes

I popped back to the polytunnel this afternoon (Sunday) and although I did find half a dozen more tiny caterpillars, these were on plants that have already suffered some damage. This is a huge relief but obviously I will have to remain vigilant and expect to be dealing with more of them over the next few days but I hope that the trays of undamaged plants stay that way. I gave everything another salt spray just to play safe, watered and then went to check on the tubs and raised beds.

Looking over the courgettes I spotted 4 rather large specimens, two of which were the round ‘tondo‘ variety and so I decided to pick these now and I’ll bring them back to school tomorrow. I also decided to pick the very nearly ripe strawberries before the birds/slugs/other wildlife decided to have them for supper and these will also be returned to school in the morning.

All in all I’m feeling a lot happier today than I did yesterday but we won’t be leaving the polytunnel door open for the foreseeable future, no matter how hot it gets, until we have some form of detachable screening in place.

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2 thoughts on “Gardening Club: Spikes, sprays and caterpillars.

  1. Hi Elaine. I saw one of those bottle sprayers in my local garden centre, and was quite tempted. It would be useful for when you only want to spray a small amount. In fact I have now just talked myself into it and will get one next time I’m at the store!
    Cheers Sarah : o )

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