Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Plum Moth - Grapholita funebrana

You may have come across small pinkish maggots in a plum before. The maggots are often found near the stone accompanied by tiny parcels of dark coloured material. These are Grapholita funebrana, the Plum Moth and more specifically, the caterpillar (larva) of the Plum Moth. The dark coloured material is their droppings (frass).

Larva of Grapholita funebrana (Plum Moth) observed  in early - mid summer

During this post we'll look at the life cycle of the Plum moth and some ways to prevent them in the biological garden.

Whilst picking plums in late August from a plum tree in our garden I noticed that the Plum Moth larvae so frequently found in the early ripening fruit from July - early August were absent from the later ripening fruits. I assumed it must have something to do with the organism's life cycle and so embarked upon a little research to find out more.

G. funebrana (Plum Moth) emerges from a cocoon as an adult moth from late May - mid July. The adult moths mate with each other and the females then proceed to lay their eggs on the small ripening fruits. Caterpillars (larvae) hatch from these eggs, tunnel into the fruits and feed on the "flesh" around the stone until fully fed. At this point the caterpillar (larva) emerges from the fruit and finds a cozy concealed spot either in the tree, on surrounding fallen dead branches or in the soil. Here they spin a silk cocoon (pupa) in which they overwinter, emerging as adults in the spring.  If climatic conditions are favourable, some first generation caterpillars may pupate early and emerge as adults later on in the same season,  laying their eggs in the ripe fruits. Three generations during spring and summer have been reported in some places.     

Adult  Grapholita funebrana 4 -7.5 mm long

We always have a long warm summer here and two generations are likely. It seems the bulk of our plums ripen before the second generation can begin to do damage. The early plums that are infected make good fruit for drying. We cut the fruit in two, collect the larva for the chickens, scrap off the tiny amount of frass and leave to dry on a tray in the car with the windows slightly cracked. They are delicious :)
In our gardens the plum moth does not really bother us, however when growing fruit on a larger scale this organism can cause significant loss to a harvest. This specie and other members of the genus Grapholita are commonly associated with many plants in the Prunus Genus, and Grapholita funebrana is one of the most important lepidopteran pests of fruit in Europe.  Larvae can cause significant damage to apricot, cherry, peach, plum, and other Prunus species. The following are signs of infestation:
  • Presence of eggs on fruit and fruit stalks.
  • Entry holes on fruit surface.
  • Dissecting a suspicious fruit may reveal larvae or frass in flesh near the seed.
  • An infested fruit may show symptoms such as discoloration, gummy droplets oozing out of the caterpillar’s entry hole, premature ripening and fruit drop.



Having a good understanding of the "problem organism"  is crucial to providing solutions and can help us in a number of ways
  • We may be able to prevent the organism becoming a problem altogether by putting in place effective control measures that break the pest's life cycle before it becomes a nuisance.   
  • We will know at what stage an organism is going to inflict damage on a crop.
  • We will know when the organism is most vulnerable to means of control.
  • We will know what we are looking for and will be able to identify a problem early on.
To recap on the Plum Moth life cycle we have the following stages:  Adult - Eggs - Larva (caterpillar)- Pupa (cocoon).  At each stage it may be possible to reduce the population numbers.    

The adults are most active between 18 and 22°C. The moths rest on the tree leaves during the day, becoming more active after sunset. The adult moths are generally sexually active before sunrise and lay most of their eggs in the evening. A healthy diverse garden/farm ecosystem will naturally support many bird and bat species who feed on the adults moths and larval stages. We can focus these allies by placing bird feeders in fruit trees particularly when the the temperatures rise above 18C.  Commonly used commercially is the Phereomone trap. This trap gives off the pheromone (the secreted or excreted chemical factor) of the female moths, thereby attracting male moths and trapping them thus preventing mating. It's costly and time consuming and is not100% effective.

The Eggs are deposited by adults around sundown at temperatures around 25°C. The females deposit 3 to
5 eggs per fruit. Eggs hatch in about 1 to 2 weeks. It's not at all practical to intercept at this stage.

The Larva is the stage of the life cycle that one is most likely to come across and can easily be removed with the infected fruit and destroyed, thereby preventing future generations. The fact we feed the larvaa to the chickens when preparing the early fruit for drying prevents further propagation and is why it's important not to let fallen fruit accumulate under a tree.  

Pupa:The larvae pupate in bark crevices or protected areas in the soil. Poultry are expert foragers for small parcels of nutrients such as a pupa. By arranging a coop around the base of your fruit trees during late May to mid July the poultry will scratch relentlessly for foods such as the Pupae and deliver some welcome nutritional excrement whilst at it. Blue and Great Tits feed on the pupa and can be attracted to the trees with balls of fat and seeds. French research has found that an adult tit can consume 12000-18000 of hibernating moth caterpillars per year. Hanging feeders in trees during the winter is also of benefit.             

Relentlessly at work in the compost pile.

We can also mitigate the damage done by these organisms by considering the host plant. We may be able to establish good control of the specie on our site, but if there are plums trees in neighbouring gardens or wild plums in the windbreaks or hedgerows and the fruit is unpicked, local populations may grow rapidly and soon be looking for new breeding/feeding grounds.

When considering growing plums, it's well worth observing local plum trees and other host species for signs of the Plum Moth. By studying the fruit of local wild plums or organically grown plums along with average temperatures records,  you may be able to work out at what point the fruit ceases to be infected and choose a variety that ripens during the time period between generations. You may also observe that the wild fruits are not that troubled by these pests at all . It appears to me that many of the local wild plums Prunus cerasifera and Prunus insititia in the relatively undisturbed (wild) areas around us are largely unaffected by the Plum Moth but that the isolated trees in fields, garden trees and trees in poor locations (i.e compacted soils) tend to be targets. Perhaps trees in healthy communities can repel the moths in some way?    
Prunus cerasifera - Myrobalan Plum / Cherry Plum

Susceptible Cultivars 

Some Plum cultivars are noted for being more susceptible to damage from the Plum Moth such as Czar and Victoria as well as Amers, Anna Spath, Buhlertal Prune, Emma Leppermann, Italian Prune, Lowan, Stanley, Valjevka, Valor and Wangenheim Prune. (Agroforestry Research Trust Volume 9 No.1 pg3). 

If you would like to learn more about Grapholita funebrana - Plum Moth , it is worth noting that it is often referred to as Cydia funebrana in older literature.

Interested in Ecological methods of growing food? Check out our Upcoming Courses and Events

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a new range of fruit and nut cultivars well suited to natural gardens. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March 

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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Nitrogen Fixing Species for Agroforestry Systems

I am currently working on a Regenerative Landscape Design for a site in Todorovo, Bulgaria. The plan is to establish an Agroforestry system known as Alley Cropping wherein rows of mixed species edible trees and shrubs are planted at intervals with spaces for herbs, forage and/or grain crops to be grown in between. It's a dynamic system which is inherently diverse, providing multiple yields and excellent habitat for wildlife while at the same time being relatively resilient to a changing climate.

The site design - Paul Alfrey 

An essential component of the design will be the Nitrogen fixing perennial plants within the community of fruit and nut trees. These plants will be pruned at regular intervals to provide biomass for surface mulch and to release a biological source of nitrogen to the surrounding productive plants and soil life by means of root shed associated with top pruning. 

When selecting plants for the Nitrogen Fixing component of this design, I was looking for species that could withstand record lows of -28 (Zone 5), tolerate some shade, were fast growing, tolerant of trimming and coppicing, able to grow in clay soils, known to provide significant quantities of nitrogen, easy to propagate from seed and provide some food for humans and other animals. The following plants fit the criteria.
  • Elaeagnus angustfolia - Oleaster, Russian Olive
  • Elaeagnus commutata - Silverberry, Wolfberry
  • Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive. Autumn Elaeagnus
  • Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree
 We are planning to grow the nitrogen fixing plants for this site from seed and to involve the local community in doing so.  Many local people, particularly the older generation are skilled horticulturalists with many seasons of experience behind them. We hope to include a number of these people in the process of propagation, each one functioning as a individual unit.  This will keep the propagation process small scale, making it far easier to use biological methods. The propagation will begin in the autumn as Elaeagnus spp. all require cold stratification unless they are sown immediately after they are picked. Caragana aborescens  will be sown in the spring 2015.    

The Benefits of Propagating from Seed

When I first started growing shrubs from seed I was pleasantly surprised at how fast the plants establish. In my experience from growing these and other nitrogen fixing shrubs, seeds germinating in the spring can establish well and be ready to plant out in the autumn of the same year (subject to species hardiness and, of course, the weather conditions in a given year). The following spring after autumn planting, I practice  formative pruning to encourage the shrubs to become denser and by the third summer after sowing  I have recorded growth of up 80cm high and 60cm wide specifically for Elaeagnus angustifolia .  The growth I have witnessed from plants in my own stock have, in some instances, outperformed established 6 year old plants I have growing in the garden, purchased from a commercial nursery.

When propagating from seed you have the advantage of selecting the strongest seedlings.  Another significant reward is that you are promoting genetic diversity within your populations, something you are not likely to find in the majority of cloned nursery stock.

If you would like to grow your own nitrogen fixing plants we are have a supply of excellent seeds at very reasonable prices currently only available to our blog readers (see below for more details).

Plants Profiles for the Nitrogen Fixing Component of this Design.


Elaeagnus angustfolia - Oleaster, Russian Olive

Overview:A deciduous large shrub or small tree from Europe and W.Asia, growing approx 7m high and 7m wide. Hardy to zone 2 (-40C), tolerates part shade, salt and air pollution.
It has silvery branches often thorny, with silvery scales when young, silvery willow-like leaves, silvery flowers in June and yellowish-silvery fruits ripening in October. Plants prefer continental climate.    
This specie is often cultivated in Europe and Asia for its edible fruits (there are many named varieties some of which are thorn less). The plants begin to flower and fruit from three years old. It is very tolerant of pruning even right back into old wood. The flowers are sweetly scented. Fruits hang on the plant for much of the winter providing a valuable source of winter food for birds. The fruit is readily eaten and disseminated by many species of birds. This species is considered invasive in the United States.

Uses: Edible fruit -raw or cooked as a seasoning in soups. The taste is dry sweet and mealy. The oval fruits are about 10mm long and contain 17 amino acids with total sugars making 54%of the composition. In China they are made into a beverage
Expected fruit yields are 7-9kg per plant. The seed is edible raw or cooked. The seed oil, flowers and leaves are used medicinally. Plants can be grown as a hedge in exposed positions, tolerating maritime exposure. An essential oil obtained from the flowers is used in perfumery. A gum from the plant is used in the textile industry in calico printing. Leaves are used as goat and sheep fodder. The wood is hard, fine-grained and used for posts, beams, carving, domestic items and makes good fuel. The plant is attractive to bees and is known to be grown as a biomass crop on a 3 year rotation. In Pakistan it is valued as a pollard fuel and fodder crop.      

Nitrogen Fixing Potential: This specie is classified by USDA as being a HIGH nitrogen fixer with estimated yields of 160+ lbs/acre or 72>kg/4050m²

Propagation:Establishment and reproduction of Elaeagnus angustifolia is primarily by seed, although some spread by vegetative propagation also occurs. Cold stratification required for 30-60 days.

Elaeagnus commutata - Silverberry, Wolfberry


Overview: A medium deciduous shrub from N.America, typically growing 3m high and 1.5m wide but sometimes double that. Hardy to zone 2 (-40C). Branches are thornless and reddish-brown, leaves are silvery on both sides . A profusion of fragrant silvery flowers appear in May-June, followed by round silvery fruits ripening in September. It typically grows on dry to moist sandy and gravel soils in steppes, meadows or woodland edges. It tolerates very alkaline soils. Plants prefer a continental climate. It can regenerate from old wood making it a good coppice plant. It resents root disturbance. Plants produce suckers quite freely often sending them up at some distance from the plant. Plants start to fruit often after 2 years.

Uses: edible fruit, raw or cooked, good with soups and for making jelly. Edible seed, raw or cooked. Plants can be grown as a hedge in an exposed position, tolerating maritime climate. The fibrous bark is used in weaving and rope making. Dried fruits are used as beads. Flowers provide nectar for bees. Cultivated as an ornamental plant for its silvery foliage.    

Nitrogen Fixing Potential: The species is classified by USDA as being a MEDIUM  nitrogen fixer with estimated yields of 85-160lbs/acre or 39-72kg/4050m²

Propagation: Seed is  best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. It should germinate in late winter or early spring, though it may take 18 months. Stored seed can be very slow to germinate, often taking more than 18 months. A warm stratification for 4 weeks followed by 12 weeks cold stratification can help. The seed usually (eventually) germinates quite well.

Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive. Autumn Elaeagnus 


Overview: A large deciduous shrub from E.Asia, growing 4.5m high and 4.5m wide, hardy to zone 3(-35C)
tolerates part shade, very drought tolerant. Branches are often thorny, leaves are bright green, silvery beneath. Yellowish white, fragrant flowers, are produced in May-June, followed by rounded silvery brown (ripening red) fruits in Sep-Oct.  Sometimes cultivated for its edible fruit. There are many named cultivars. Flowers are rich nectar and very aromatic.Plants can fruit in 6 yrs from seed. This specie is considered weedy in the U.S

Uses: Edible fruit raw or cooked which is very tasty and can be made into jams, preserves etc. The fruit contains about 8.3% sugars. 4.5% protein. 12mg per 100mg Vitamin C. Mature bushes in the wild yield about 650KG of fruit over 2-3 pickings . The harvested fruit stores for appox. 15 days at room temperature. It can be used as a hedge plant and tolerates maritime exposure succeeding in the most exposed positions. The wood is a good fuel. The nectar from the flowers is attractive to bees comprising 28% sugars. The plant is used as a nurse tree, when planted with fruit trees it is reported  to increase the overall yield of the orchard by 10%. It can also be grown as a biomass crop on a 3 year rotation.   

Nitrogen Fixing Potential: The species is classified by USDA as being a MEDIUM  nitrogen fixer with estimated yields of 85-160lbs/acre or 39-72kg/4050m²

Propagation:Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. It should germinate in late winter or early spring, though it may take 18 months. Stored seed can be very slow to germinate, often taking more than 18 months. A warm stratification for 4 weeks followed by 12 weeks cold stratification can help. The seed usually (eventually) germinates quite well. Prick out the seedlings into individual pot as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant out when they are at least 15cm tall.

Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree 


Overview: . A deciduous shrub originating from Central Asia  belonging to the Fabaceae (legume) family  growing to 5-6m high and 4m wide with an upright habit. It is vigorous. Flowers are borne from buds on the previous years wood and are typical of flowers from this family. Flowering occurs in May. Pollination is via bees, usually wild bumble bees.  Pods develop from flowers looking like small pea pods, they are 4-5 cm long. The pods ripen to amber or brown from June -July onwards and seeds fall by August. The plant is extremely hardy tolerating winter temperatures of -40 Hardiness zone 2. Prefers a continental climate witrh hot dry summers and cold winters.
Uses: The young pods are eaten as a vegetable, lightly cooked. The pods become tough later in the season. The seeds are rich in fats and proteins (12% and 36% respectively) about the size of lentils and can be cooked and used in any way that beans are used (the cooked flavour is somewhat bland, so best used in spicy dishes ). The young raw seeds have a pea-like flavour although it is not clear whether they should be eaten raw in much quantity. Widely used in windbreaks and shelter belts and used in wildlife-erosion control plantings stabilizing soil with an extensive root system. Good wildlife fodder and can be used to as poultry food. A fiber is obtained from the bark and used for rope making.          

Nitrogen Fixing Potential: The species is classified by USDA as being a MEDIUM  nitrogen fixer with estimated yields of 85-160lbs/acre or 39-72kg/4050m²

Propagation: Seed propagation is the norm. Seeds germinate better after a short period of stratification and/or soaking in warm water  prior to planting.

These species profiles include extracts by Martin Crawford, Director of Agroforestry Research Trust from the excellent quarterly publication Agroforestry News Vol.4 No.3. I highly recommend subscription to this journal as essential reading for all who are interested in temperate tree crops and agroforestry. Put a log of Krugiodendron ferreum on top of an issue and it will still be worth its weight in gold :)

If you would like to grow your own we are offering great prices for excellent seeds.

Nitrogen Fixing Shrubs and Trees

1000 x Hippophae rhamnoides - Sea Buckthorn - £12 / €15 inc. delivery
1000 x Alnus incana - Grey Alder - £10 / €14 inc. delivery
1000 x Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive- £10  €14
1000 x Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree - £10 / €14 inc. delivery
500 x Elaeagnus commutata - Silverberry, Wolfberry - £10 / €14 inc. delivery
500 x Elaeagnus angustifolia - Russian Olive - £10 / €14 inc. delivery 

Multi pack including 1 pack of each of the above -  £50 / €67 inc. delivery 

Seeds - Edible Fruit and Nut / Timber Species 

500 x Celtis occidentalis - Hackberry - £12 / €15 inc. delivery
500 x Prunus serotina - Rum Cherry - £10 / €14 inc. delivery
100 x Pinus koraiensis - Korean Pine - £12 / €15 inc. delivery

Multi pack including 1 pack of each of the above - £30 / €40 inc. delivery

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  • Sowing instructions will be sent to you via email, if you do not use email please request printed instructions with your order. 

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Interested in Ecological methods of growing food? Check out our Upcoming Courses and Events

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a new range of fruit and nut cultivars well suited to natural gardens. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March 

 Balkan Ecology Project Bio-Nursery