Battling the bugs


Gooseberries are one of my favourite summer fruits – I totally love them in pies, crumbles and curds – especially in gooseberry curd ice cream. So I have been fighting a long war against gooseberry sawfly caterpillar.

This little beast lays its eggs on the underside of gooseberry leaves, these then hatch into little green caterpillars that can completely decimate the leaves and fresh growth on a gooseberry bush, which creates a much weakened plant and diminished crop in the following season.

gooseberry sawfly

Can you see the little blighter?! This is one of a couple I have found (so far…) this year. To tackle the problem, I could use a biological control – nematodes – but they are very pricey, and it would probably work out cheaper for me to buy gooseberries instead! Another option I have heard of is to make a ‘tea’ using foxglove leaves, and drench the plant early in the season. Too late for that now, so thankfully I have worked out a system that seems to be keeping them under control, without too much effort or expense.

I put my gooseberry bushes in pots (in John Innes no.2 compost) when we first moved to this garden about 8 years ago, because I wasn’t sure where I wanted them to go long term, and this has turned out to be great for keeping on top of those evil caterpillars. I read that sawfly cocoons overwinter in the soil around the base of the bushes, so in early spring every year, I scrape away the top layer of compost in the gooseberry pots (trying not to damage any roots in the process). I then leave the compost uncovered for a couple of days to give birds the opportunity to come and pick off the cocoons from the soil. Then I put a fresh layer of compost on the top of the pots, and cover with a mulch (I use Strulch, which I really like, it is so easy to use, and because Strulch is such a great word…). Finally I keep a close eye on the gooseberry plants – looking for early leaf damage in the centre of the bushes, and picking off any caterpillars I see every few days over the summer. The other advantage of having the bushes in pots is that it is easy to rotate the pots and have a good luck for any damage, without getting too prickled!

My next problem is going to be keeping the birds off. Last year the woodpigeons stole my entire crop almost overnight (I was not a happy fruit gardener…). Recently we have been celebrating attracting a pair of bullfinches to the garden – here’s the male on our feeder:


But I have just been reading that bullfinches love gooseberry buds, so I feel a permanent fruit cage might be a necessity! Once more it makes the gooseberries rather expensive, but at least that’s a long-term investment.

Right, on to the aphids that are currently feasting on my beautiful lupins… Any ideas?

8 thoughts on “Battling the bugs

  1. In the end I gave up with lupins . They were just a mass of aphids . We never get many gooseberries , maybe that’s why! And I love your bullfinch

  2. No ideas for the gooseberries, but aphids and lupine go together like chocolate and…everything. Mine are always covered in aphids and it doesn’t seem to hurt them. And as long as the aphids are happy on the lupine, they stay there and don’t spread, so we are all happy.

    1. Good to know that they stay on the lupins! Perhaps I shall have to adopt your philosophical approach. Feel like I am fighting a losing battle on that one – with the slugs attacking from the bottom, and aphids from the top!

  3. I use organic bug clear spray and it does work but you will have to reapply. Interesting that this problem didn’t really exist here until the early 80’s.

  4. I had the same problem and gave up in the end. It’s weird though as I have found a couple of small gooseberry bushes among my perennials which must have grown from seeds dropped by birds. I will just have to see of the get any fruit. Good luck you have more patience than me.

    1. We lost a gooseberry bush (that was in a pot) too, but I noticed that a small twig that must have fallen off on to the soil below had rooted, so we now have a replacement. I am also wondering if I will get any fruit from it, it’s still only about 6 inches tall. My greed for gooseberries has made me more patient than usual!

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