So how do you control pest insects without nasty sprays then?
With a lot of bloody hard work and time spent understanding insect life cycles and their key times of weakness.
It all comes down to having a sense of curiosity about the natural world and understanding that your orchard is part of a much larger system of interconnections and co-dependencies, where predator and prey weave a complex web of balance. Blunt pest control can upset that balance, kicking off a cascading set of impacts, sometimes worse than the initial problem. Orchard health is much like human health, don’t jump to the antibiotics too quickly or too often!
The critter in the above photo is a codling moth, the bane of nearly all apple growers across the world (Western Australians and the Japanese don’t know how lucky they are). Apples and codling moth have co-evolved over millennia, the moth 100% dependant on apple trees to fulfil it’s reproductive desires, the apple tree 100% annoyed at this dependency does its best to support other biology that predates on various life stages of the codling moth.
From mid spring onwards the codling moth lays eggs on the apple tree, a very hungry caterpillar hatches a week or two later in search of apple fruitlets to bury itself into, grossing out any human that then bites into that fruit. Wasps, birds, earwigs and lots of other critters love to dine on the coddling moth grubs but they don’t get them all. So on top of encouraging all the beneficial insects we also apply a virus, (called the Cydia pomonella granulovirus) that is lethal to the coddling moth grub at a very particular time of it’s lifecycle however harmless to all other insects and to humans. We spray this virus in conjunction with sugar and brewers yeast to encourage ingestion and improve efficacy.
Dimpling bug and woolly aphid are two other common insect pests in modern apple orchards, interestingly they only became a problem once broad spectrum insecticides were used to control codling moth, which also killed all the other insects predating on dimpling bug and woolly aphid. So organic orchardists rarely have a problem with dimpling bug and woolly aphid as there are enough wasps, lady birds and other beneficial insects alive in the orchard to maintain balance.
So in a word it is all a questions of balance!