The Cottage Smallholder

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Gooseberry Sawfly Beware

Background- gooseberry bush eaten by sawfly caterpillars

Background- gooseberry bush eaten by sawfly caterpillars

When I was at school and hadn’t revised properly for an exam, I put the main course text book under my pillow hoping that magically the information would be transmitted into my brain as I slept.

This guaranteed a restless night, especially if the tome was large. I’d usually wake feeling tired and stressed. Perhaps it was the adrenalin and desperation that made me creative with my exam answers. Generally I passed. But would have done far better if I had prepared properly for the exams.

These days my radio headset is a boon but often I’m not concentrating 100% on the programmes. I focus on topics that appeal and drift on the edge of other programmes that bob in the background just in case. Often I’m drawn in to a topic that I didn’t know existed.

Last night I stalked down to the kitchen garden to peruse the potential gooseberry and currant harvest. Both gooseberry bushes were stripped bare.

I immediately thought sawfly. I must have picked up this tip subliminally from Gardener’s World  (BBC Radio4) as I swooshed the green paint over my clients’ garage doors. Our gooseberry and currant bushes have finally come into their own after three years and were laden with blossom this spring. Tiny hands had clapped with glee at the prospect of fruit vodkas and chic jellies and tarts. We had planned giving gooseberry wine a go. The sawflies had eaten all the fruit and every bit of leaf from the green gooseberry bush but had left the fruit on the sweet red (dessert) gooseberry bush. Why?

We are sawfly virgins. So this evening I looked up sawfly on the internet and discovered that the gooseberry sawflies are also partial to red and white currants. My blood pressure immediately raced.

I shot down to the fruit cage and spotted hundreds of small caterpillars guzzling our currant bushes, and thousands of eggs waiting on the stalks to mature and continue the devastation.

So now we are at war, there are five of us (two humans and three Min Pins) up against millions of hungry and potentially ravenous new born caterpillars. Help!

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  1. KatyVic

    We’ve got them, too. The key to keeping on top of them (hah!) is looking for the leaves with just a few little dot-holes in the middle. Turn the leaf over and you’ll see tiny newly hatched caterpillars eating at the holes, and the white egg cases on the veins. If you can squash everything on the leaf, you’ve just eliminated 25-30 caterpillars at one go.

    But I’m going to try the membrane trick around the base of the plant right now – the grubs pupate underground, so stopping access to the soil should surely help?

    Good luck everyone – and thanks for the site (I’ve only just stumbled across it).

  2. The trouble is that gooseberry sap is sour, so the caterpillars are too, so birds won’t eat them. It’s the same with asparagus beetles – crush one and smell your fingers and you’ll know why they don’t get eaten.

    The hens might peck and kill them I suppose. But if the washing-up liquid treatment works, I’d go with that.

  3. Amanda

    My Grandad always used to spray fruit and veg with a mix of washing up liquid and water when there were pests around (not me I hasten to add!!)

    I hadn’t heard of sawfly until today when I was reading a Woodland book with smallest. That was just a few hours ago and now I’ve learned even more about them. I think we need to check our emerging fruit.

  4. Steelkitten

    I’ve had problems with sawfly for years.

    Every year I cover the bushes to stop aerial attacks, replace the top few inches of compost to get rid of overwintering eggs, cover the ground round the plant with membrane and pick the caterpillars off morning and evening as I see them.

    It’s hard work but strong consistent action can beat them. Don’t forget there are usually two waves of attacks during the year as well. The larvae out at the moment will reach maturity and lay their own eggs before the summer is out.

  5. ChickPea

    ….and you have maybe now explained why the Cottage hens declined to assist in waging war in the first place – not much point if the invaders don’t taste good……

  6. magic cochin

    Good grief!!! I commented too soon – they’re on mine too now!!!

    I pick off as many grubs as I could see and put them in a plastic tray for the hens…

    … they turned up their beaks, gave me a withering look and strutted off :-O

    This must be a good year for Gooseberry Sawflies


  7. Allotment blogger

    Aaargh – I think we have this! Himself came back from the allotment last night and said our gooseberry was ‘bare’, I shall have to run up there today and see if it’s true … and then it will be washing-up liquid and water every night for a week for us.

  8. magic cochin

    I agree with Chickpea – you need some ‘under-gardeners’ to help you clean up the area of those nasty sawfly and their larvae.

    The larvae overwinter in cocoons in the soil under the bushes – let the hens have ‘scratch and peck sessions’ in your fruit cage during the winter – it’s good insurance. If you mulch under the bushes – remove this and let the hens give it a good going over!

    Forgetting the damage the little devils do, sawfly are fascinating as they seem to have adapted into separate species for particular plants. If that plant is in your garden they’ll sniff it out! Beware the Solomon’s-seal sawfly – the nasty little larvae seem to appear from nowhere and defoliate the plant in a trice!

    Good luck with the Celia

  9. Fiona hi, try and spray the bushes with a strong solution of washing up liqid and water every evening it worked for us but you need to do it for 7 evenings and then keep an eye out for more eggs xxxx Regards Jon xxx

    • Julie

      Jon your idea is amazing! I was searching the web to find out what was wrong with my gooseberries and what to do about it. I read about the sawfly and it seemed like the culprit but I do try to avoid chemicals in the garden and washing up liquid sounded too easy. I inspected the bush first but couldn’t see any caterpillars so sprayed it anyway. As I was spraying I could see hundreds of tiny caterpillars falling from the leaves. I never expected an instantaneous solution. Thank you. I will continue with the treatment every evening.

      • Carrie

        I discovered that NEEM oil sprayed on the infested bush (dessert gooseberry) seemed to kill the little green caterpillars. They fell off in droves, tried to climb back up the pot and then died off over a couple of days. I’ve picked them off and squished the last 2 years (was thinking that I’d toss the bush this year) so discovering that NEEM oil works was a great joy. I had to do it a few times until all of the eggs hatched. The bush is recovering well. I love NEEM oil on my roses too.

  10. ChickPea

    I reckon your hens might love to meet those guzzling caterpillars, and boost your forces – especially if you tell them graphic tales of the gorgeous fruit harvest they may perhaps get to share if this campaign is effective……

    Wishing you all the very best of luck , x

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