Tuesday, August 16

Wrong kind of insects?

Lots of people seem to have been complaining about poor pollination of various plants this year. Around us there hasn’t been a shortage of insects - that is the  wrong kind of insects - the biting kind. I know I shouldn’t scratch or rub the itchy bites but knowing it and following my own advice are just two completely different things. I’ve just read about harvest mites - could this be my problem? In many ways I wish I hadn’t found out about them as it’s making my skin crawl.

As for the good guys - there didn’t seem to be a shortage of pollinating insects earlier in the year when the fruit trees and bushes were flowering. Our fruit bushes and trees have given us a great crop but then the blossom was at it’s peak in April which was warm and dry so ideal pollinating weather.

It does seem though that later in summer insect populations have dwindled. We have seen very few butterflies, not even as many of the whites whose caterpillars decimate brassicas. Lavender and buddleia flowers that are usually covered in butterflies and bees seem to have been neglected this year. 

So what has happened to all the pollinating insects that should have been busy on our behalf? Did the over-wintering adults, eggs or larva perish during last year’s freezing conditions? Has this summer just not been warm enough for them? Is the lack of insects the reason our garden birds are eating us out of house and home?

So what is happening in our garden greenhouse?
I haven’t noticed as many bees in our greenhouses as usual. At this time of year the greenhouse is supposed to be buzzing literally with the sound of visiting bees and time is spent rescuing butterflies that can’t find their way to the door. 

Is  the lack of friendly insects the reason our tomatoes seem to be slow to set fruit - especially the ones that produce small tomatoes? They are weighed down by flowers but many don’t seem to be developing into fruit. The fruit that is setting is very slow to ripen. Maybe the drop in temperature at night and generally cool conditions aren’t helping matters.

At last I have spotted a couple of melon fruits that have set but will there be long enough time left for the fruit to swell and ripen? We are not having ideal melon growing conditions this summer.

Our pepper plants still have plenty of flowers but also have fruits set. I thought that they should be changing colour by now but on looking back it was September before any peppers ripened last year.

I try growing basil each year with mixed success. Basil that I sowed earlier  in pots is producing some leaves for cutting but the mixed varieties that were sown in a trough are pathetic - maybe I’ll have to resort to planting those living herbs available in supermarkets and give up on the range of varieties that it is possible to grow from seed.

The strawberry runners that I potted up look as though they have taken. I’ll take a few more so I have a complete tray of each variety
A few days ago I took some lavender and salvia cuttings - these are under propagator lids to create a moist atmosphere. The lavender will be used to complete the lavender hedge around the fruit beds on the plot  and the salvias will be insurance against any loses during winter. That is if I can get them going and they survive winter in the greenhouse. I’ve also taken cuttings from the sambucus nigra growing on the plot. I’d like one growing in a tub in the garden. I guess it will be a either case of no cuttings rooting or all of them!
Our trusty grapevine - Himrod - is as usual producing lots of bunches of grapes. Can’t wait to start picking (well eating really) but the small, sweet, seedless grapes aren’t yet quite ripe.
I know it’s not actually in the greenhouse but the pot containing our new nectarine tree - Fantasia - is right by the greenhouse door which is my excuse for mentioning it. The fruits are changing colour  - they should go completely red and smooth. I can’t wait to have a taste of a home grown ripe nectarine. I just hope nothing happens to spoil things.


  1. The reason why there are fewer of the "right" insects around your way is that they are all in Herefordshire! There were loads of bees about there, and more butterflies than I have seen for a long time.
    re Basil: I always grow four plants indoors, where they do really well - we are inundated with the stuff - and the ones grown outside never do very well. I don't think our climate is best suited to growing Basil.

  2. Please send some butterflies our way! By indoors - do you mean in the house?

  3. Most modern tomatoes don't need a pollinator - in fact the male and female parts are enclosed in the anther cone so insects can't get in. I find if you regularly tap the stems you get fruits setting. The pollen has to drop onto its own internal bits (not too technical I hope? Can't remember what they're all called!) It's mainly beefsteaks and heritage toms that are insect pollinated.

    I found the first butterfly trapped in our greenhouse this morning. It was a cabbage white. Ratbag!

  4. Thanks VH (is stigma or pistil the word you're after) I'll try tapping. I wonder if the temperature - it's been quite low on a night is affecting pollen flow. I did read that spraying with water may help too - what do you think?

    Sorry about the cabbage whites - they're the only ones we have seen much of. We've noticed just one red admiral and one peacock, no tortoiseshells at all and a few gaterkepeers but nothing like what we usually have.

  5. I am in Worcestershire and we have loads of butterflies and bees !!I sow basil all year round I sprinkle seed in a 3" pot with a little vermiculite on top of the seed.I always start it off in the greenhouse but do put it outside this time of year.The trick is once it is growing keep pinching the top leaves(use them dont throw them) and you get really bushy plants.I find one pot lasts a couple of months as we use loads of it.Regarding the tomatoes I also tap the flowers when they first open to encourage the fruits to set.You dont need to spray if you tap.

  6. The numbers of bees and butterflies here have certainly dwindled since earlier on in the year. How exciting to have your own nectarines, we need a bit more sunshine now to get them ripe.

  7. My problem Flowerlady is that it doesn't seem to really get going. As for the tomatoes tapping it is then.

    We certainly do Jo.

  8. Your fruit trees are doing well. I like the grapes. How is the kiwi doing?

  9. We've repotted the kiwi Diana as I don't think it liked the compost that it was growing in - the leaves were turning a bit brown. It still has fruit but they're not really growing - we have had low night temperatures too which may not have helped.

  10. I have noticed a lack of insects of late too...though my tomatoes seem to be doing just fine without them. I am having the same problem as you with my melons though and although the plants were healthy and have lots of flowers I'm not holding out much hope for any fruit this year.

    I am very envious of your grapevines...they look very juicy!!

  11. Our melon plants look good too, Tanya - maybe we just need a hot summer.


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