Greenfly and shed skins on a chilli plant

6 tips on how to spot greenfly

Greenfly, a menace to all, and particularly to chilli growers. Greenfly not only spread disease and drain a plant of its energy they often damage the fruit too. But how do you find them in the early days before they take hold and decimate your plants? Here are 6 tips for early detection.

1/ Look in the new shoots. Although they are commonly found on the underside of leaves, early in the year before the sun gets hot, they get into the tender new shoots where they damage flowers and leaf growth while the are still forming, so look there first.

2/ Use a magnifying glass or zoom in with your phone camera. It is so much easier to find and kill two or 3 today than 300 a week from now. In the picture below you can clearly see two fatties tucked into the new leaves plus a couple of smaller ones. The scars from their bite marks will cause the leaves to be contorted.

Early greenfly infestation on chilli plant

Early greenfly infestation on chilli plant


3/ When the sun gets hotter they seem to take shelter. This is when you start to find them lower down the plant among the shady lower leaves. Look for the white shed skins, they are often the most obvious sign of a greenfly infestation.


Greenfly and shed skins on a chilli plant

Greenfly and shed skins on a chilli plant


4/ Look for twisted shoots as they emerge, this almost always  a sign of greenfly, not some other disease. The greenfly that caused the problem may have long since been eaten by predators, but it is best to give the tip a spray with an organic insecticide to be on the safe side.


Greenfly causing twisted leaf growth on a chilli plant

Greenfly causing twisted leaf growth on a chilli plant

5/ Look inside newly forming flowers, if the greenfly get hold before you stop them they will scar the flower tissue and this results in bent and badly formed fruit, more on that here. As soon as the bud starts to open they will get inside. A quick spray with a soapy organic insecticide should do the job, or there are lots in there you should nip the flower off and scrap it. There is no point in allowing the plant to put its energy into growing a malformed fruit, there will be plenty of other flowers.

6/ Look for white shed skins in spider webs or on the soil around the plant. This is the tell tale sign that greenfly are lurking on the leaves above. The shed skins are often mistakenly diagnosed as white-fly when they are just empty skins shed as the greenfly fatten ready to give birth to the next generation.


Slugs & Snails the 2016 Battle

My battle with slugs and snails is something that is close to my heart. Whilst I hate them with a passion there would be a gap in my life if they disappeared forever. This is an unlikely scenario, they are more likely to take over the world, and when they do I will be sent to the Hague to be tried for crimes against slugmanity, and there is no way I could argue my innocence.

Despite warnings in the media that our mild winter would mean the worst ever summer for slugs and snails, this doesn’t seem to have happened, yet. We had a cold snap recently, which was mostly charaterised by dry freezing northerly winds, so this maybe killed off a lot of the population at just the time they would be poking their noses out.

So last night, rather late in the year, was my first big slug hunt. Temperature 14.5°c at 9pm following a day of rain showers, this definitely demanded action. They breed like rabbits, and every one that wasn’t killed last night will produce 10 million by August, or something like that. So I left no corner of the garden unexplored. I have seen much worse, in fact I was pleasantly surprised, but I still had a job to do. The veg patch was pretty clear, mainly due to ‘good garden hygiene’, i.e. no old pots and rubbish lying around for them to hide under. Not so the rest of the garden, under the lilies by the cat’s graveyard there were plenty. I’m not sure what type of lillies, you can’t eat them so they are of limited interest to me, I only go there to kill slugs.

These days I mostly use what I call the ‘double tap’, named after the special forces method of shooting someone. One smash or slice with a trowel, then a quick flick to toss the remains into the shrubbery, a bit like the sport of hurling. I don’t want their rotting remains on the lawn, nor do I want to see their carcasses being eaten by their hungry brothers and sisters the following evening. There is more of this in a slightly more serious piece on slugs, what they eat and how to control them here.


Snail on Chilli Plant

The final tally was about 40 slugs and 55 snails and there weren’t many big fat Spanish slugs, which is good news. I have done much much worse in my evening rampages and I will continue this fight over the next few nights before I can sleep easily, but this isn’t victory, I will never win.



Hoverfly laying eggs on a chilli plant

Hoverflies, Predators of Greenfly

The most commonly talked about predator of greenfly is ladybirds, you can buy them online, or collect them from around the garden, often on stinging nettles, which are themselves riddled with greenfly.

Just as effective, and just as common, if not more so, are hoverflies. The flies themselves usually feed off of plant nectar, but the larvae of many hoverfly species feed on greenfly along with other aphids, thrips and any other small insect they can get their teeth into.

I have a few more greenfly than usual in the greenhouse this year, but today I noticed that the battle has turned against them. I have left the doors wide open in the last few days in the hope that some predators might come in, even at night, which means I risk moths coming in, and that means caterpillars. Sometimes the line between good and bad is a fine one.

I discovered a new way of finding greenfly, just watch where the hover flies go. I have never watched them this closely before.

Update – For a bit more on greenfly detection have a look at this later blog entry.

Hoverfly laying eggs on a chilli plant

Hoverfly on chilli plant

This chappy (chappess actually) hovered around the plants from shoot to shoot, only stopping at the ones which had greenfly in the tips.Here you can see her sucking on a leaf, maybe one that is covered with the sweet sticky dew that the greenfly exude, this is also the stuff that ants love. I couldn’t get a picture of her next move, which was to reach in with her back end and lay an egg among the greenfly. One egg laid, then on to the next shoot. Only the shoots with a greenfly benefited from an egg, so hopefully in a day or two a tiny larvae will emerge on each and start munching. They grow quite quickly so in a few days I will have a picture of one. Watch this space.

Greenfly on Chilli Flower

Hidden Greenfly Damage

Most people know the common reasons why we shouldn’t let greenfly run amok over our chilli plants, they suck it dry of sap and nutrients and they spread disease. One other big problem with greenfly is that they ruin fruit. Malformed fruit is a fairly common problem on chillies and other factors come into play such as environmental conditions, genetics, and diseases, but problems resulting from greenfly damage are often not credited as such because they occur long after the greenfly have gone.


Greenfly on Chilli Flower

Greenfly on chilli flower

The above picture shows how they enjoy getting their beaks into the soft flesh of a flower, often the flowers and new shoots are the first parts of a plant to be attacked because they are the most tender and succulent. Once this flower opens they will get inside and feed of the reproductive parts of the plant and the tiny chilli before it has even developed. This results in scar tissue from where they pierced the flesh and the outcome is a chilli that is split, or misshaped. You can see this in the picture below.

Greenfly damaged Chilihuacle Negro Chilli

Greenfly damaged Chilihuacle Negro Chilli







Now the Chilhuacle Negro is an odd chilli anyway, the skin is always matt coloured and leathery, even when it is fully ripe (when it turns brown) and it is never smooth and round, but you can see here that secondary fruits have formed close to the calyx (where it joins the stem). On the right hand one these aren’t even closed, they are split open and you can see inside. Whilst still edible, this will probably start to rot before it ripens, and if you were a commercial farmer it certainly wouldn’t be of a quality that you could sell.

The answer to this problem is that as soon as you see evidence of greenfly, usually the feathery white skins on the leaves below, check your flowers. It is difficult to get at the greenfly inside and crush them without damaging the flowers, so you can use an organic spray, but I think it is best to nip off the flowers while they are young so the plant doesn’t waste its resources growing useless fruit. It will soon grow more flowers,usually they produce many more flowers than fruit anyway, and it ensures you get rid of your greenfly and leave the plant producing a healthy crop.

I have had more problems than usual with greenfly this year, but as documented in a previous blog, by far the worst affected have been the Chilhuacle Negros, these fruits must have come from the first flowers be hit, before I even saw them, and I have picked a few fruits like this now. You can never be too diligent!








The Order of Greenfly

I have long been fascinated by the way greenfly will populate one type of chilli plant but not another, and while chilli plants are generally a tasty target, greenfly are happy to dig into one variety while another variety next door goes unscathed, at least for a while.

Some years I get very little in the way of greenfly, other years, like this one they are more of a challenge but even though they are pest, I still find them strangely fascinating. Their breeding cycle is weird, some are born with wings, some without, and some are even born pregnant.

So I have been observing their progress recently. A few weeks ago i noticed a few on my Chilhuacle negro plants, but not any of the others. Now they have spread a bit, firstly to bhut jolokias, but not Carolina reapers, then to some cajun belles, then to some aji, and yet the pimiento de Padron in-between remain untouched.

An entomologist once told me that that they tend to stick to one variety if they can and so in my greenhouse I dispensed with keeping plants of the same variety next to each other, now I alternate them, so that if one plant is infected with greenfly then they are less likely to jump onto the neighbours. Apparently they just get used to the sap of one plant, and their young will prefer to stay there. They still managed to spread from one chilhuacle to another, but it took a while, the fact that they were spread out bought me some time to squash them.

Anyone done any serious experimentation on this?

Slug Eating Chilli

How to REALLY Control Slugs – Drink the Beer yourself, and take the Battle to them

Firstly lets deal with the notion that slugs are just slimy things that whilst annoying to the gardener and not very pleasant, they are otherwise quite innocent.

1/ They will eat the rotting flesh of their dead brothers and sisters, then crawl all over your vegetables

2/ Many of them will eat dog and cat faeces and then they crawl all over your vegetables

Is this what you want?

Now I’m not squeamish about creepy crawlies, but for these reasons alone I don’t touch slugs, well not the big fat ones anyway. There area number of different species and pretty much all of the ones you find in the garden will have a go at your plants and vegetables, but some more than others. Actually the ones that do the most damage on the tender shoots of your peas and beans are more likely to be Common Keeled slugs, or Yellow slugs. The Common Keeled slug is a difficult one to control as it spends most of its life in the soil, and can attack seedlings before they have even emerged into the daylight, you also find them under plant pots where the squeeze into the drain holes during the daytime.

The nasty one is the big fat orangey brown Spanish slug, these are a relatively new invader from overseas, they are drought tolerant, lay twice the number of eggs as native slugs and are voracious eaters of anything and everything, including dog poo and dead animals. They are taking over from our native slugs and are quite a disgusting and unwanted addition to your garden.

You will read about all sorts of ways of controlling and trapping slugs, and you can spend an awful lot of time and money on it too, nasty pellets, eco-friendly pellets, copper bands, plastic traps; the list goes on. All of these take time to set up and inspect, and according to my experience none of them really work. The reason they proliferate is twofold, firstly the people that manufacture things like beer traps and copper bands want to sell you something, and secondly people that offer advice want to do so without causing offence, so they offer tame alternatives to the real way of controlling slugs and snails, which is to hunt them down and kill them, mercilessly, by whatever means you have at hand.

So my slug and snail regime is as follows; I use Nemaslug in the spring, as soon as the soil warms up, (slugs don’t come out until the temperature reaches 6°C). You buy this from online retailers or garden centres and water it all over the garden on a warm moist night. This definitely swings the battle in my favour, and hopefully staves off the population explosion until after the spring rains and into periods of dry soil when slugs lie low anyway. Nemaslug is of particular benefit in the exposed soil of vegetable patches where the damage is done by the soil dwelling Common Keeled slug. The slug that leaving you wondering where they came from and where they go to when the sun comes up. They are the ones that will get your early seedlings and also attack root vegetables and newly germinating seeds underground.

Slug Eating Chilli

Slug Eating Chilli









After Nemaslug there is no substitute for the nightly massacre. This goes for snails as well as slugs, (Nemaslug doesn’t work on snails). I go out an hour after dusk and slash or smash every slug or snail in sight. This is free, and actually takes less time than spreading pellets, or filling beer traps. If you drink the beer you would otherwise waste in their traps then this can help with any guilt that may build up during the slaughter. The death toll can run into the hundreds if you don’t keep on top of it.

If you keep this up you will soon get on top of them, and then from time to time on dry evenings you won’t find any, and you can ease off slightly on your nightly binges.

For some further info on slugs, and a handy identification guide, have a look at 

Samsung Galaxy S3 picture of Jalapeno slice.

My Amazing Smartphone Macro Camera

I have long been a fan of my smartphone camera, I remember when I first got it I was amazed by the quality of the pictures generally, but didn’t realise how brilliant the macro setting is.

Smartphone MAcro Yellow Chilli Slice

Samsung Galaxy S3 Macro Chilli Picture

This picture and the one below are back-lit, but the camera is hand-held, such amazing detail. You can pick out the plant cells around the inside of the chilli and see the light shining through the vascular tubes.

Samsung Galaxy S3 picture of Jalapeno slice.

Samsung Galaxy S3 macro picture of Jalapeno slice.

My first and still my most appealing macro picture taken with my phone is quite an old one, and it did such a good job of illustrating how caterpillars munch away on chilli plants that I used it in my book. Again handheld, Samsung Galaxy S3, and with a moving target too.

Caterpillar eating chilli plant

Caterpillar Eating a Chilli Plant, taken with Samsung Galaxy S3 on Macro setting. From the book ‘Growing Chillies’

Fungus Gnats (or Sciarid Flies)

I have never really had a problem with these before, occasionally I have seen them in chilli plants that are overwintered indoors, or other house plants. But mostly they tend to stick to indoor plants with old neglected soil.

For those that don’t know about them, they are a tiny black fly that hangs around the soil in a pot, you often don’t see them until you water it and they all fly up in a panic. Their even tinier grubs will be living in the soil, feeding on algae, rotting organic matter, and according to some experts but not others, the roots of your plant.

This year, however, I seem to have been inundated with them in the greenhouse. I think this is most likely due to the very mild winter. Where I live in South Devon we only had a couple of very light frosts, and the greenhouse never went below zero, hence poor sterilization of the soil. I had a couple of chilli plants out there which developed fungus gnats in their pots but I wasn’t too worried, normally they would die and be discarded before spring. I also had a bag of compost left over from the previous year which had a few in. I didn’t want to use it for potting so I dug it into the beds in the greenhouse. I foolishly thought the flies wouldn’t survive in natural soil because other bugs would kill them off. This was wrong, and before I knew it the beds were crawling, along with some other pots.

I am a big fan of biological controls, Nemaslug etc. and I urge people to use them whenever I can, but it is only recently that I have seen a control for Fungus Gnats. In my Growing Chillies book I deal with Fungus Gnats, but don’t mention a biological control for them as, at the time, there didn’t seem to be one available, hence this update. I have always used the old fashioned method of sticking a piece of potato in the soil which attracts the grubs and can later be discarded. Luckily now there is a biological control widely available, it is inexpensive, easy to use and very effective. It is microscopic nematode worms that infect the fly grubs. It comes as a light powdery substance in a small sealed tray. Dilute it in a watering can and water it into the soil of infected pots. It seems to me that the results are obvious within just a day or two. I suppose the grubs are infected almost immediately and the adults don’t live more than a day or two, so their life cycle is immediately halted.

This will be my first port of call in future, I might even order it as a matter of course every spring when I order my Nemaslug, you can get them shipped together from ‘all good purveyors biological controls’ I use 

Aaaaaah – Flatworms!

This is part of my therapy, but I already get the feeling it isn’t going to work.

Warning, this article contains a lot of Flatworm information and a picture; reader beware.

Firstly I will say that I am not usually squeamish about creepy crawlies, in fact from a very early age I have chosen to seek them out. I was a keen amateur entomologist as a young teenager, and still am. I kept giant cockroaches as pets, and have always wanted to know what lies beneath rocks and stones.

Apart from one experience when I opened the lid of the compost heap and momentarily confused half an avocado skin with a giant slug I don’t remember being too repulsed by invertebrates, although a 7 inch giant centipede did run over my foot in Australia once, so I have a bit of a thing about those, and that is fair because they do bite.

One thing, however, that has always sent shivers down my spine is Flatworms, and flatworm-like things in general. Until last week my only experience of such creatures has been horror films, The X Files, and the like, in which they generally cause mayhem beyond what you would expect from the average squishy thing.

Oh, and I don’t like leeches either. There is a pattern emerging here, soft shiny wet things that are wider at one end than the other and move, sometimes quickly.

This therapy isn’t working.

Most gardeners have probably heard of the New Zealand Flatworm but have probably not experienced them, so their knowledge is limited to the fact that they are an unwanted import, they probably came to this country in the pots of imported Tree Ferns, and they are a pest we don’t want or need.

They have been around for a while, taking hold in the great gardens of Cornwall where Tree Ferns and similar plants thrive and Victorian enthusiasts built great collections of imported fora from around the globe.

So anyway, last week I was on my nightly slug hunt, the weather has warmed, though still damp and they are emerging ready to do damage. I was mooching round one of my new raised beds, scissors in hand, snipping the odd slug here and there. Suddenly something caught my eye, something out of place, and the beam of my head torch landed on a slippery orangy-yellow thing. I knew what it was instantly, luckily it wasn’t very big, maybe an inch and a half. But I winced and I could feel the blood rushing round my ears. Then there was another one, this time wriggling, wrestling with an earthworm.

This is what they do, they eat earthworms by digesting injecting them with a poison which dissolves their insides and then they suck out the juice.

This therapy definitely isn’t working.

The two worms were each snipped into four pieces, all of them still wriggling quickly. I hope all these 8 parts don’t carry on living, the consequences aren’t worth thinking about.

I took a picture and tweeted it, all the time trying  not to look and I hoped that someone might correct my misdiagnosis, but all I got was confirmation and one lady who put the final nail in the coffin of my Flatworm phobia. ‘They can escape from a sealed jam jar!’

I don’t know for sure if mine are New Zealand Flatworms, I never made a positive identification. I don’t want to look at any more pictures. There are also Australian Flatworms which, I imagine, are slightly larger, a bit more aggressive and in your face, and care a little bit less about the environment around them. I hope, at least, that mine are from New Zealand.

That night I had the worst nightmare I have ever had. A proper ‘you only ever see it in the movies’ type nightmare. I can’t go into the details of it but it involved lots of Flatworms, dozens of them, and huge, much like Indiana Jones in a pit of snakes, and I awoke with a proper scream. My wife thought I was dying.

My slug hunting expeditions have abated for a while. Hopefully my Nemaslug treatments, and general plant protection are doing their job. I think that the flatworms only live at the bottom of my garden where there is a strip, sheltered by a tall fence, that never sees the sun. This is where the compost area is and I think this is how the Flatworms came to be in my raised beds. The household compost goes in a big bin which is really a wormery  and when I built the beds I emptied all the bin into the bottom of the beds.

We have barely had a frost this winter, in fact where I live I suspect ‘This has been the warmest winter on record’ and I think this provides a perfect habitat for Flatworms to thrive.

Flatworms can’t tolerate frost, and luckily they can’t live in temperatures of over 20c, so maybe this summer and a cold winter will see them off. I don’t know where they came from, I have never brought plants imported from New Zealand, maybe my neighbour has, or maybe they are just gradually spreading. I don’t think Devon is the best place for them, although it is generally quite wet, things do dry out in the summer. From what I have read, (which is very little, as most internet articles are accompanied by photographs), I gather they prefer Scotland, where they escape frost by burrowing down, and enjoy constantly damp summers.

Worse has happened, yesterday my nightmare nearly came true. I was repairing a path along the bottom of the garden, in the shady area. I lifted the edge of some weed control stuff that lay under the path, and through a hole in it, from underneath, a bigger more orange Flatworm wriggled, half way out, fatter and the visible part was an inch and a half without what lurked beneath. I couldn’t kill it. Where else are they? In my wellies? around my radishes? In my hair? Aaaah.

This therapy hasn’t worked. The path is still unfinished and this article won’t be proof read so apologies for any errors. I don’t even know if Flatworms are one word or two, I’m not going to look it up and I anyway I can’t read this again, at least not for a while. I don’t expect others to read this anyway, it isn’t the sort of subject matter people go out of their way to find.


This is one of my flatworms, before it was chopped. I held my hand in the way of the picture while I was editing it, so I don’t even know if it looks OK. You decide.