Gooseberry saw fly infestation

arturjosta1I’m just indoors from a massacre. And boy am I ravenous. Who knew you could have an appetite after so much carnage.

It was all Artur’s fault.  Or should I say, he saved the day.

He has moved down to a new snoozing quarters in the potager.  It’s quite warm at the moment, so he has found that if he sleeps under one of my many jostaberry bushes he can keep an eye on me, but get valuable sleeping time in as well.

I was beetling past him yesterday, en route to check whether the dahlias have emerged, when he called out. You all know that plaintive cry – demanding attention. A lap, a scratch. sawflyunder

So I pushed my way through the bushes to give him lap room and had a lovely shady pause.

Now patting cats can be a bit tedious after a bit. Especially when you have a busy gardening programme, so while Artur was purring away like a sewing machine I looked around the soft fruit bushes to see how the fruit was ripening.

And to my horror I saw what every grower of soft fruit fears.  A sawfly infestation.  Caterpillars everywhere. Thousands and thousands of small grubs eating and eating and eating the leaves.

sawfly detailI leapt up (cat not best pleased) and started inspecting the bushes more closely.

It’s a disaster.  The largest of the jostaberry bushes at the left end of the orchard has lost a third of its leaves. And I could see so many grubs on the upper leaves.

The jostaberry is a plant that is a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry. So obviously the gooseberry sawfly still thinks of it as part of that family.

I waded in (with gloves, thank goodness for gloves) and started an indiscriminate squishing.

But they are wily these caterpillars. If they detect a threat (and believe me a gloved hand reaching towards them with menacing intent is pretty much the greatest possible threat) they curl up into a ball and drop to the ground.

There they play dead for a bit and then uncurl and head back up the bush. sawflyonleaf

I can’t tell you how many hours I have been at this task.  Squishing, then getting the hose and blasting the bush.

And then once all the branches have been shaken hard, crawling underneath and trying to get all the caterpillars as they inched their way back up.

And yes, they have dropped on my hat, in my pockets and I swear I am crawling with them.  When I close my eyes at night all I see is wriggling grubs.

It’s the downside of gardening; having to commit so much murder in the name of crops.  I was so into the mean mode that I decapitated a few slugs I found underneath the bushes as well. And thought nothing more than – ‘what a shame, I have slug slime on my secateurs’ – and moved on.

jostaorchardSo for one mad afternoon and a full day today (hence being late to write this blog) I have battled hard.

I can’t say I’ve killed them all.  Every time I go out there to pick some coriander and dill for dinner for example, I walk past, spot a grub and start squishing.  I tell you, dinner was late indeed owing to a spot of dusk death.

From a distance the plant looks fine.  But oh my, it’s pretty sorry close up.

To seek consolation I have done only one other garden thing of note these past few days.  I have made a batch of rose petal syrup.

I was planning on making rose petal jam (a favourite of Bronwen’s I have wanted to recreate for years).  But I only succeeded in creating a divine syrup as I didn’t dare cook the petals for too long. rosepetaljam

Poured over yoghurt it is divine.

If I had ice cream it would have chased away the munching misery of a soft fruit orchard outdoors.

But I had to turn to the only other experiment I could think of; we often put home made cassis liqueur in white wine as an apero.

Would rose petal syrup make a local fruity white into a cocktail sensation?

The flavour is delicate. I tried one glass with just the syrup.  And then the second with the petals as well. The texture is a bit squeaky.  But delicious.  And then of course, I forgot all about the horrors outside and tried to spend the rest of the evening fishing petals out of the bottom of the glass and singing ditties to myself.

Disaster? What disaster?