For the last few weeks I have been eyeing up the strawberries I have growing in oil tanks at the Little Garden. We had two oil tanks split because they weren’t seated on a level footing. I cleaned them out really well and got the big lad to cut them in half lengthwise with a con saw (his very favourite tool besides wire). Two halves are now home to the strawberries and, as I found out yesterday when I went to do a clear up, lots and lots of vine weevil grubs.
Now this is not surprising. I fully expected it to happen. The winter was very mild last year and this year as well, so we have had a build up of pests (I shudder to think of what the slugs will be like…). And strawberries are the favourite food of the vine weevil grub, at least the roots are. Indications that you have vine weevils around the place can be found on the leaves of plants. The adult beetles takes a little C-notch out of the edge of leaves. The adult is dark greyish in colour with ridges running up and down its back — don’t confuse it with the regular old black beetle (he’s a good guy). No, the vine weevil has a cinched-in waist and looks much more sinister. The juvenile form of the vine weevil (the baby beetle form… I like to use technical terms…) often has a green sheen to it, something like verdigris on copper. I just squish them when I see them, animal rights be damned.
But it’s the grub you really need to kill because you have lovely little plants growing then all the sudden they topple over, wilted to death. When you go to have a look, you pull at the plant and it just comes away from the soil because the little bastards have eaten all the roots. The grubs are white, they are often curled up in the shape of a C — there’s that C again, C for Crap or worse… Anyway, the little fecker is 7-10mm when it is fully engorged with your plant’s roots and always has a little brown ‘nose’ on the head end. When I see them, I squish them or get my hens to come and eat them. Just get rid of them.
So the weevil got to my beloved strawberries. This is after waging war to protect them last year against snails, slugs, weather and magpies. It makes those cheap punnets at Aldi look more enticing… except they have no taste. There is nothing like homegrown strawberries.
My plan now is to pull up all of the plants (which I’ve already done as you can see above). Today I am going to choose the plants worth saving. Three years is about the lifespan of a strawberry plant if you’d like it to be really productive. They start to go woody then and don’t produce as many strawberries. So I’ll chuck out the old plants, choose new ones. I’ll have to wash the roots to make sure all of the weevil grubs are out and then replant them into pots of compost while I de-grub the tanks. How do you do that? I’m planning on bribing my hens to hop up into the tanks and scratch around — they are easy to bribe, just a bit of bread crust will get them up. Hell, I’ll even let the magpie participate.
There is no organic solution that I know of other than this. No, I lie, there is the Steinernema nematode but I think that is more for the adult than the larva. There are chemical drenches you can buy but they shouldn’t be used on edible crops (thiacloprid comes to mind but for all I know this could be banned by now). I have this funny feeling that people used to drench the soil with watered down Jeyes fluid but I’d hate to be quoted on that (would anyone like strawberries & tar??). So we’ll go for the hard work, pain in the ass method of eradication. I’ll wait about a month and then replant the strawberries into the tank.
I have four varieties of strawberry growing in the tanks: Elsanta, Honeoye, Symphony and Christine. Symphony seems to be hit hardest by the weevil. The plants seem smaller and weaker than the others. It was also one of the heavier croppers. The Elsanta plants are the most healthy and robust looking — and interestingly have the least amount of vine weevil grubs in the soil around them. I don’t know if this is because the leaves of Elsanta are a bit tougher than the Symphony ones, or if Elsanta just got lucky and so has been able to keep strong growth overwinter. Strawberry plants in Ireland (most winters, anyway) usually keep a bit of growth over the cold months. One other possibility for Symphony getting hit harder is that the soil it is planted in seems be more peaty while Elsanta seems to have a bit more manure in it (it is a bit heavier). I believe that vine weevils love potting compost. More reason to add well rotted manure when possible. I think it is interesting that the varieties seem to have been hit differently by the evil weevil.
The battle continues… Next time, not sure yet but I may be talking about The Great Perennial Division since that’s all I seem to be doing these days.