Attack of the Mealy Bug!

What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.

And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.

It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.

The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.

The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.

We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).

We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.

Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!

Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.

A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way

According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.

Do people never learn?

In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.

They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.

On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.

Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.

Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.

In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.

There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.

And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.

Mauritius

Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.

There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.

Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.

All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.

I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…

I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.

And then some!

cane toadscane toad

Garden Update #5 – July 2013

Passionfruit Vine

It’s alive!

It survived the transplant (I love the tropics!) – most of the leaves fell off, and some branches died, so I pruned those off, together with any that were growing away from the wall. I’ve tied the remaining branches onto the mesh for now, but will remove the ties once more tendrils grow.

passI’ve also mulched it with leaves from next door’s Coeur de Boeuf tree (soursop) as I haven’t made it to the beach to collect seaweed yet. I’ve kept the mulch well away from the stem to avoid stem and root rot.

Pawpaw Tree

It started dying back due to the white mould (which apparently is a widespread problem in Mauritius at the moment), so Alf cut the top off (as I couldn’t reach it):

Topped pawpawand covered the cut with a plastic bottle:

Protected trunkThe pawpaw trunk is hollow, and if left uncovered, will fill with rainwater, causing it to rot.

We continued to spray, and look what’s happening:

New growthI don’t know what this new growth is – I’m hoping that it’s leaves and flowers as opposed to major branches. Not sure – will wait and see.

I also don’t know what to do about the top – surely we don’t leave the bottle on forever? Does it close up? Branch out? More waiting and seeing, I guess.

Bamboo, Cordyline, and Daylilies

After tying it up, I’ve decided not to prune the bamboo (sorry Asmi – no cuttings yet!) as I like the way it looks and moves in the wind:

BambooAir can now circulate properly, and the cordyline that was buried underneath can get rain, sun, and space to grow.

BambooUnlike the daylilies, which were getting crowded out by the rhoeo:

DayliliesI’ve since moved them to the mulberry bed, as they need room to spread, multiply, and eventually give me lots of free plants.

Mulberry Tree (Mure)

White mould strikes again!

A lot of the leaves fell off, and the new growth at the top of the branches was distorted.

I pruned off about 5 feet as even Alf couldn’t reach to spray the tops of the branches – it’s a much more manageable height now at about 6 feet, and hopefully, this will also cause the tree to branch out as it was pretty straggly.

Mulberry treeWhen I googled “pruning mulberries”, the information was too general and contradictory: only prune when the tree is dormant (doesn’t happen in the tropics – it’s evergreen here), prune off 1/3, don’t prune, only prune branches growing into the centre. Arrgh! No details of where on the branch to prune or other things I need to know.

Google’s great for a lot of things, but when we lived in Perth, I would always borrow gardening books written by experts from our local library, rather than spend hours online with not much to show for it.

Anyway, I just guessed and made the cuts above buds that were facing away from the centre of the tree. Don’t know what the buds are. Leaves? Branches? Who knows. So again, will wait and see.

Mulberry treeRuellia Hedges

I’m having one final go at these, and if it doesn’t work this time, I’m planting something else.

Many of them have died (I don’t know why), so I have a lot of gaps.

Others are growing horizontally or unevenly.

They still don’t look like a hedge – maybe I should have planted them closer to each other.

Anyway, I’ve pulled out the dead ones, and pruned the rest back hard.

I selected about 20 straight cuttings (about 1 foot long) from the bits I pruned:

Ruellia pruningsstripped off the lower leaves (so the leaves don’t rot and turn the water slimy):

Stripped stem

Yep, that’s dirt under my fingernails!

and stuck them in a jar of water with a few drops of Seasol added (to strengthen the plants and help them root):

Cuttings and dodosThey will have rooted in a couple of weeks at which time I’ll fill the gaps, and also replace any existing plants that are misbehaving.

I hope it works this time as I really like the plant, and I really, really like hedges.

Oh, and did you notice the sad state of our dodos?

We haven’t had workers around for a while, so I forgot to move them from under the tap before Joselito washed out the tile adhesive bucket.

The good news though, is that I had to repaint and varnish them after the painters covered them in housepaint, so I already know how to mix the right shade of green.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta look on the bright side of life!

Garden Update #4 – June 2013

Passionfruit Frame

It’s finally up! Yipee!!!!

The delay has been due to the bottom length of wood – it was warped so kept falling off the wall, despite Alf’s best efforts to screw and nail it on.

Then, our ex-builder, Joselito, came a-visiting, and worked his magic. What a star!

Because everything here is built with hollow breeze blocks, you really need someone who knows how to work with them.

Alf and JoselitoHe ended up drilling bigger holes in the wood and wall. He then inserted chips of wood into the holes, along with the wallplugs, and bolted the wood to the wall, chiselling lumps out of it, so he could countersink the bolts.

So now we know for next time!

Though, if there is a next time, I think we’ll just pay Joselito to do it. It took him ages, and would take us forever!

After filling all the holes and gaps with Woodfiller, sanding it back, and touching up the paint, I stapled wire mesh to the frame:

Gaps

Thank God for woodfiller – not even close!

WoodfillerStaplesThe mesh comes in 3 foot widths, so as our frame is over 5 feet high, I had to join 2 lengths of mesh together:

MeshI finished it all off with painted wooden beading held on by small tacks, then painted the tack heads to stop them rusting.

TacksThe beading will stop the mesh from falling off when (not if, but when!) the staples rust. The combination of humidity and salt air guarantees that.

It also looks nicer.

Finished framePassionfruit Vine

Passionfruit vine

Before transplanting

The passionfruit vine is in place: I dug a large hole, replacing the rubble-filled soil with compost, and the topsoil we bought, and watered the passionfruit thoroughly with Seasol (seaweed extract) as it helps reduce transplant shock. I’ll also be giving it a deep soaking everyday, and mulching it with seaweed.

I used some of the rocks I dug out of the garden to make an edging so that we don’t trample all over the roots and damage them further. I can remove the edging down the track (though what I’ll do with the rocks is another thing!).

Rock edgingI don’t know whether it will survive. It’s been in the raised bed for about 9 months, and the roots had burst through the container it came in, and grown into the soil. They had spread pretty far, and although I tried not to damage them, I did.

To compensate for the broken roots, I pruned it back very hard.

It’s looking pretty sad.

If it lives, I’ll tie it to the mesh until it starts climbing on its own.

If it dies, we’ll be heading back to the nursery at Labourdonnais for a new plant.

But as this is Mauritius, and plants do their own thing here, I’ll just wait and see.

Transplanted passionfruitPot Stands

OK, explain this to me – metal doesn’t stretch, and plastic, tiles and grout don’t shrink – so how did the pot stand and pot go from this:

Stupid pot standto this:

Magic pot

?????????????

I went to remove the pot so that I could work on the stand, but it was stuck – I can’t get it out!

It was much too big for the ring before. What’s going on? I’m completely baffled!

Maybe we have fairies living at the bottom of the garden.

Very, very weird!

I’m probably going to have to knock some tiles off to get it out.

Anyway, I’ve finished the other stand – I tried using a wire brush to remove the loose paint and burgeoning rust, but didn’t find it very effective, so I used coarse sandpaper, which worked really well.

Pot standPot standPot standAlf’s thinking is, that as long as the rust is well covered by the paint (thereby stopping air from getting to it), I won’t need to use rust converter, or primer.

So I didn’t – I don’t need much encouragement to save myself a lot of work!

After a quick wipe, I gave it three coats of purple paint (very time-consuming!).

I’m not sure whether I like the purple – it’s a bit much. I may end up changing the colour.

Purple standOther than that, it’s a huge improvement. I’ll keep an eye out for any breakthrough rust.

I’ll also be making mosaic tiles to stand them on, to keep the feet out of wet sawdust.

Anyway, one down, and one to go.

Once I get the pot out!

White Mould

Everything’s growing well with the exception of the pawpaw, chili hibiscus, and some of the Madagascan frangipanis, which all got badly infected with white mould.

Mould

Chili Hibiscus

Mould

Mould

This is after a few days of treatment

It looks disgusting, and deforms and kills the leaves, and if left untreated, ultimately kills the plant. And it spreads.

Because the pawpaw tree was too tall for me to reach (and it was soooo disgusting!), Alf kindly removed most of the leaves, and sprayed everything with a mixture of milk and water (1:3 parts), re-spraying every couple of days. We used fresh milk as opposed to UHT.

It seems to be working – it’s certainly killing the mould – but we’ll have to wait and see whether the plants survive. Both chili hibiscuses have already died.

Alf will keep spraying the other plants with the milk solution until there is no sign of mould left, then I’ll spray with Seasol to give them a bit of a health boost.

I also promise to be more vigilant in future, and to spray at the first sign of mould. Amen.

So all in all, it’s been a productive month, seeing an end to some of the projects that have been sitting around unfinished for the past year or so, and a start to others.

And best of all, I can now start work on the raised bed, and move the pile of soil that’s been sitting in the driveway for months! Finally!

Grass

The idea I had about using hessian as a weed mat has gone by the wayside – when we came back from Perth, as expected, the grass had all grown back.

But what I didn’t expect, was to find that it had grown through the small holes in the astroturf!

Seriously?

If it can grow through astroturf, I’ll have no chance with hessian!

So I’m back to the poisoning option, with one difference:

A friend told us she did a similar thing back in Scotland, but instead of using a paintbrush, she put on rubber gloves, then a sock on top of that, dunked her hands in the poison solution, and wiped it over the grass.

Quicker than the paintbrush, and hopefully, less splashing of poison onto the surrounding plants.

I’ll definitely be raiding Alf’s sock drawer and giving that a go. Thanks, Linda.