We are into the second half of our most important month and a tour of the vineyard reveals that summer is still very much on. The skies are absolutely clear, there isn’t the merest hint of a cloud, it’s arguably a little hot for work (but we have already covered that) and there are insects flitting about all over the place. The return of the insects after virtually all of them disappeared in 2012 is both good and bad news for us.
I noticed what I thought was mite damage on the vines for the first time in a couple years last week on just a few of the vines (which was the case the last time that we saw it). Insects haven’t been of particular concern to the vines at this time of year before, as the judicious use of insecticides (once ever, on a legion of wasps) has encouraged a good crop of ladybirds and soldier beetles that do an excellent job of keeping the mites et al in check. The soldier beetles seem to still be a bit thin on the ground so far this year, but there are quite a few adult ladybirds about and literally thousands of their offspring munching away on the mites that we can’t see, but thankfully they can. I saw a ladybird larva eating the black fly on a weed the other day, they are absolutely savage. And presumably extremely hungry. We had an alarming hour or two the first time that we saw ladybird larva – which had appeared in shocking numbers almost overnight and look kind of evil – and were mightily relieved to discover that they were doing us a favour. Not least because the chemical store was conspicuously insecticide free at the time.
Our discovering the new mite damage coincided with a visit from the very knowledgeable chap who sells us our chemicals. I described the damage that the mites were doing and, quick as a flash, he told me that I was talking complete rubbish, that capsid bugs were eating the vines and that we should be able to see them. I was shocked. Not that I’ve been talking rubbish these years – Lucy reminds me of that on a regular basis – but that we should be able to see the bugs that are having a go at the vines. He also told us that we would have to spray to eradicate them entirely, which would also knock out the good guys. Fortunately we have a method to remove naughty and visible insects that we developed when we had a problem with moths and their ravenous caterpillar offspring, specifically applying a thumb and forefinger to them and repeating until there aren’t any left. This method is both ecologically sound and incredibly satisfying, fingers crossed that it’s as effective on the capsid bugs as it was on the moths.
It appears that some of our resident pollinators have also returned after a year off. I have probably mentioned before that vines don’t exactly have the most exciting flowers as their petals are fused and all fall off in one go when it’s time for action. This tells us that they don’t do much in the way of attracting insects and in turn have to use the wind to pollinate their uninspiring flowers. Then again, every little helps, and in previous years we have seen (and been alarmed until identifying them also) pollen beetles and soldier beetles crawling all over the flowers and generally helping the wind out. And this year, for the first time ever, we have bees too, which are presumably off to make the world’s most delicious honey. We have considered and rejected the idea of keeping bees before as we understood that they aren’t much interested in the flowers of vines. Now that we know different, I shall be taking steps to ensure that the world’s most delicious honey is attached to my toast next summer.
The return of the charmless horse files is bad news for me in particular as they are turning me into a walking buffet car as I work in the field closest to other people’s livestock. I you haven’t had the pleasure – we certainly hadn’t until we went to live la vie rustique – horse flies land on you with a almost audible thud and then painfully bury their spiky head in you for the purposes of extracting your blood, with absolutely none of the gravitas employed by the sneaky and under handed mosquito. What makes the horse files extra delightful this time of year is that we are spending at least some of our time strimming at the moment, and when the strimmer kicks up chunks of grass and weeds onto the operator, it feels almost exactly the same as a predatory horse fly landing. And leaping about like a demented person and slapping yourself every thirty seconds doesn’t exactly expedite the process of removing the weeds from beneath the vines.
And what of the worst of our insect visitors? Vespula vulgaris, the obnoxious wasp, who lies in wait for you to tend your grapes carefully all summer and then callously eat them? He is conspicuously absent. According to the people who know about these things, he’s absent because he has yet to recover from the ravages of summer 2012. Could this summer get any better? No, it could not.