Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wolfberry update

Autumn is when wolfberries are supposed to start fruiting, and indeed, they're becoming much more visibly active. The long, trailing stalks that the plants sent out in the summer are now covered in little buds and flowers.

During the summer, the plants didn't look too good. The long stalks (called vines by most people, but inaccurately to my mind since they don't cling), lay around untidily all over the place, prey to every kind of foliage eating thing that crawls on the ground. One insect that wreaked particular havoc is a species of leaf beetle, the "kuso ha-mushi", literally, the "shit leaf beetle". The larvae of this attractively-named orange beetle covers itself in its own excrement, of which it has lots, because it has a prodigious appetite. In fact it stripped most of the stalks almost completely, while the leaves that survived were full of holes. At first, I busied myself squashing each larva by hand, but they were legion, and squishing little agglomerations of shit isn't very nice. I then tried breaking up an old cigar (I've given them up) into water and spraying it on the plants. This made them smell interestingly of old cigar, but didn't deter the beetles and their ill-mannered children one jot. Then I tried spraying a 30-70 mixture of milk and water, which made the plants stink of milk. Since the larvae soon disappeared, either this treatment worked, or their season had come to its end. These beetles are supposed to be a significant pest for commercial growers, so I'll be watching out for them next year.

Left: Beetle, Right: Larvae
A photo borrowed from this Japanese site

Once this menace was past, I resolved to tie up the stalks to bamboo canes, and this seems to have been a good move. They look tidier, and they soon grew back dense new foliage. They also look as though they will eventually serve one part of their purpose, as a prickly hedge, quite admirably. I won't be sorry to see less of the concrete wall behind them either. I'm quite excited about my wolfberries, especially since they're putting forth what promises to be an abundant crop, yea, even in their very first year.

Behind the new growth, old leaves have been ravished
by the "shit leaf beetle" larvae

The leaves are supposed to be edible in salads and as garnishes. I nibbled on a young, tender leaf, and it didn't taste good. However, if the fruit proves as abundant as it hints, I shall be quite satisfied with that.

I've been reading up on wolfberries/goji and it seems the name goji is something of a fraud, and the extravagant claims made for Chinese wolfberries apply only to the Tibetan variety. More here.

The black soil that you can see in this photo is my own home-produced compost. I want my wolfberries to be surrounded by strong, drought-resistant clover, and so I reseeded it in compost from the bottom of my pile. It seems to be a rather superior product.

Those who are tempted to grow their own wolfberries may find this page a useful resource. I also enjoyed this page from a gardener in Pennsylvania.