The Papaya War

One of the several casualties :(

When things go too smoothly in the edible garden, you should brace yourself for that speed bump. Our Red Lady papaya fruits had been left unmolested on the trees and I was lulled into false security and left the fruits to ripen as much as possible on the trees.

Then came the day when a curious bird started eating an almost-fully-ripe fruit, and I realized my folly. Unfortunately, that one incident tuned the bird or birds in to the tree, and in a couple of days, the next ripening fruit had a few scratches on it. The shape and positioning of the scratches indicated that a bird had tried to land and grab a foothold on the fruit. I thought I could salvage it by wrapping it in newspaper and leaving it on the tree for another day or two, but when we harvested it, there were icky white wormy things inside. Bleah.

Did the papaya tree remain unmolested after that? No way! The next fruit in line had only newly emerging orange stripes on it, just starting to ripen, and guess what – an idiotic bird took a single peck in the orange part, then left the fruit alone. Of course insects invaded after that, and it was yet another fruit lost to us.

It's rather too large, but this cage kept the birds well away from the papaya.

No thanks to the rainy weather in December, the next fruit was yet another casualty – and it wasn’t the last. I blame myself for not braving the dripping plants and checking sooner. I guess I can’t blame the birds for doing what they’re supposed to, but goshdarnit, these are special fruits to me!

Something had to be done to regain control of the papaya tree, and it had to be a little drastic. I got the idea from a YouTube video and adapted it according to the materials I had available. What I ended up with was essentially a papaya cage! I created a cylindrical cage with strong wire that went around the tree trunk. When lifted to the level of the fruit, I made sure it had sufficient distance so that a bird couldn’t reach the fruit while perched on the outside. I tied the top of that fence to the tree trunk – hung it, rather – then spread pieces of chicken wire to block access from the top and the bottom. Did it work against the birds? Just keep reading…

I'm hoping these bee-like insects aren't doing anything dastardly like laying eggs in the papayas

My next concern is these bee-like insects that seem to like walking and pausing on the ripening fruits. I hope they’re not doing anything despicable like laying eggs under the fruit skin!

As if that’s not enough, mealy bugs have invaded all 3 of our trees, focusing on the niches at the juncture of the leaves and those hard-to-reach areas at the cluster of flower, fruit and leaf stems. I initially tried using white oil spray, but it kept getting washed off by the rain. On one occasion, I was so mad that I literally hosed down the infested areas! However, they’re still around and they’re also introducing black mould. I’ve continued with some white oil, but only a little, because I’ve noticed a couple of ladybugs and spiders taking up residence. As in the case of my aubergine plant that was infested with aphids, I did nothing and the ladybugs started breeding there and decimated the aphids. So I’m trying to control my instincts and let the beneficial insects come in and help me out. It’s tough, though.

So back to the question about my papaya cage’s effectiveness – did it keep the birds out? It sure did. It’s just too bad that birds weren’t the only pests I should have been worried about…

I never would have suspected a beetle of being the first to invade a fruit, but life's just full of new lessons, isn't it?

We were maybe 2-3 days away from getting a perfect, tree-ripe fruit when I noticed a dark spot on the papaya from a distance. Closer inspection revealed a beetle not only on the fruit, but it had already pierced the skin and was eating the fruit. I chased it off and immediately harvested the fruit. There didn’t seem any point in leaving it on the tree where other insects could invade the fruit further. We’ll give it a couple of days more to ripen, and hope there won’t be any wrigglies inside when we cut it open. In the meantime, the Papaya War rages on…

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The Papaya War — 4 Comments

  1. My heart goes out, as they say, to you and your papaya tree. I saw that happen to my neighbour’s papaya tree several times over the last 2 months, the culprit impervious to my paparazzi camera. You really have construction in your blood. Must have been born holding Lego bricks!! What a cool idea – fruit cage!

    Me, I’m battling mealies on a few of the fruits. They’ve been exterminated from the trunk, but they started appearing on the fruits now. I’m spraying neem-water… Perhaps you can persist with that too… All the best

    • Thanks, NoviceG. I’ve stocked up on neem and hope it’ll help. There are so many other sap-sucking insects around that it’s not fun!

      Did you peek at the YouTube link in the article? That’s where I got the idea for the cage from. The folks in Hawaii must be papaya experts, IMO!

  2. I discovered a cool way to protect against birds and fruit flies that lay eggs in the papaya – just use fibreglass wire cloth. This is basically the fine mesh material used in insect screen. It’s not affected by the sun and keeps the insect and birds out.

    As for other whitish bugs that invade the papaya leaves (especially underneath) and cause the leaves to shrivel, a very workable cheap and safe way is to use an ordinary water spray and add some dishwashing detergent (not too much, just a little will do). The basic idea is to break the surface tension of the water so that the slightly soapy water drowns whatever is clinging on to the leaves. Works every time for me.

    Good luck and enjoy your fruit and save you cash buying white oil etc.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Patrick! I’ll check the hardware shop for the fibreglass wire cloth. It sounds like a really effective protector for the fruits!