There exists a serious end of summer, invasive flying pest, small, numerous and almost impossible to destroy or prevent. It is one of science's favourite insects: please welcome the drosophilidae more commonly called the 'fruit flies'. You will find them hovering over the fruit bowl in your cool kitchen, inside the refrigerator, frantically paddling in a temporarily neglected glass of wine. Some of them are even teetotal* and will swim in fruit juice or cold tea. No respecter of persons, fruit flies will even swim in the bottle of wine that accompanies your lunch – you really do have to cork the bottle after every pouring. However, in my non-scientific observation, it is not keen on hard alcohol – I have yet to meet it doing the crawl in a gin and tonic.
For a little while I tried placing a damp dish cloth over the fruit bowl to discourage the fruit fly. The trick reduced the numbers slightly, but only slightly. Recommended traps for fruit flies are simple – leave out a glass of wine or other sweetish drink, close with a funnel and down they go, just like the vastly more ferocious hornets in the water bottle and honey trap. But I am not wholly convinced that fruit flies will drown – if I empty the glass over some handy bush, will they not just sneeze, shake themselves and come back? Probably not, but the sheer quantity of these insects make it seem to be the case.
Now the hornets seem to have either all died, emigrated or hibernated. In the last week the number in the grape vine over the terrace has substantially reduced for no apparent reason. Some seriously deranged, kamikaze hornets came barrelling into the house at dusk,head-butting totally inoffensive electric lamps until they died. This left my paranoid self looking for their bodies – I did not wish to sit, or go to sleep, on a hornet corpse which might, in sheer malignant death throes, sting. It seems very early for them to disappear unless the queen hornets – who hibernate in snug, unlikely to be disturbed places such as cracks in trees, walls or apparently abandoned chimneys – know something about the immediate weather prospects that human forecasters have not yet confided to a dependant public. The Indian summer goes on and on.
In the meantime the butterflies and the smaller birds are having a ball for they have the grapes almost totally to themselves. Wrens and robins send complicated call signals from the vines or the near-by palms, sneak a grape or two when no human is visibly by. The butterflies, predominantly fritillaries, couldn't give a fig for the presence of humans and just go about their business – which includes sucking nectar from the figs that have been pierced open by the birds or that have split from sheer ripeness.
The grape bunches now need serious beauty treatment before being presented next to the cheese board. The split grapes have to be removed along with their dead stalks. The presentation is more elegant if the unripe grapes are also suppressed and the whole bunch tailored to a correct 'bunch of grapes' shape. Then you might want to wash off the remaining bouillie bordelaise or copper sulphate wash that was applied earlier in the summer to prevent disease, successfully this time. As the very dry weather has tended to bake the copper sulphate onto the grapes, a soaking rather than just a rinse is recommended. A soaking in a deep bowl, possibly with a little salt added to the water to discourage insects, as one does with garden lettuce.
Yes, indeed, hello earwig!