Short version: I’m not here to condemn anyone who uses pesticides, as I’ve used them in the past and still use ant bait, but I’ve come to the conclusion that pesticides are terrible for the wildlife in the garden and when it comes down to it they don’t work that well in the long run. Caring for the wildlife in your garden allows creatures to do the job for you and also cares for the pollinators. Encourage small birds, hedgehogs, amphibians and predatory insects. Try other methods like picking infested leaves when harvesting, hunting for pests after dark, traps and cloches.

I have waged a constant war against ‘pests’ in my garden and I’m not slowing down in 2020. I’m afraid I’m not nice. I found a collection of about 30 tiny snails huddled up round the rim of a pot yesterday. They were so tiny and cute. I had to remind myself that they will very quickly become gooseberry sized monsters with voracious appetites. I squished as many as I could find. I then found a load of eggs a little later. I strongly suspected them to be snail eggs, but there is a possibility that they may be worm eggs. The internet failed me. There were matching pictures under both snail and worm egg searches.

Curiosity has gotten the better of me and I have contained them and will check weekly to see what happens. To be honest you can’t worry too much about this kind of thing. There’ll be plenty of snail and worm eggs in the neighbours’ gardens and in soil I haven’t dug. There’s only so much you can control. I took comfort in knowing that I had just removed about 30 definite snails less than 20 mins earlier.

Using Pesticides

Now I would be a hypocrite if I said that no one anywhere should use pesticides. I have used pesticides in the past. I don’t anymore (except for ant bait because we have evil bitey red ants) and I wouldn’t like to guarantee that I won’t use more pesticides in the future. It’s hard to state absolutes. However, I have concluded that you are better off trying your best not to use pesticides. It’s partly for the environment, but it is ultimately for selfish reasons. They just aren’t worth using. If you are on the fence or fond of using pesticides, then I hope to offer some thoughts.

The problems

Food chains and webs

So, those who remember GCSE biology might remember how energy is consumed up a food chain. This is a chain that would be quite realistic in our garden.

Sun –> kale –> caterpillar –> robin –> neighbour’s cat

Poisons tend to accumulate up food chains. Organochlorides (used in pesticides in the 1960s) were found to be the reason for death in birds of prey. Small birds were eating the poisoned pests. The predator birds were eating the small birds and the accumulation of the pesticides were killing the birds of prey or affecting their ability to reproduce (source).   

One can assume that many of the smaller birds which weren’t being eaten were also dying. From an ecological point of view this is terrible, but also from a gardener point of view you’ve lost a useful ally that was merrily eating your pests daily.

Taking it back to my garden food chain – yes, the caterpillars drive me mental, but if I poisoned them, they in turn would poison the robins, which would then poison the cats. I don’t like the cats eating the birds and I don’t like the cats poo-ing in my garden, but I certainly wouldn’t want to poison them.

By killing robins, there’ll be less robins to eat the caterpillars.

Predator – prey interactions

Another GCSE Biology topic. When left to its own devices, nature has her own way of controlling populations. E.g. aphids and ladybirds can have intertwined population cycles.

Let’s start with aphids. Let’s say that there is a huge population of aphids. This means that there is a large amount of food available to ladybirds. This means that the ladybird populations thrive and increase. The larger number of ladybirds means that there are more predators to eat the aphids. This means that the population of aphids decrease and there will be more competition for food. At some point the population of aphids will be too low to support the large population of ladybirds. This means that the population of ladybirds will decrease from lack of food and increase of competition. The decrease in population of the ladybirds means less predators for the aphids so their numbers then increase… and we are back to the start of the cycle.

Basically, nature will even out the odds. You may kill off the pests, but you may also be hurting their predators too that were helpfully gobbling them up. Chances are you will find that your pests will be back as it’s impossible to eradicate every last one (certainly not from other people’s gardens too), so the cycle continues in its never-ending loop. You might find that the predator populations affected don’t recover as quickly, giving you a bigger problem later. Why battle the inevitable by introducing harmful chemicals?

Targeting your destruction

In addition, some pesticides will hurt bee populations and other pollinators, like hoverflies, that are essential for pollination. No pollination means no fruit. Don’t forget fruit also includes things like tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and the plethora of other squashes. There are bee friendly pesticides out there but there have been studies on how a cocktail of ‘non-toxic to bee’ chemicals have been killing off populations (source 1, source 2).

As a last, but rather important note. I also don’t want to kill my child as she grazes unashamedly on all my berries and salads.

Some options

Yes, it all sounds like doom and gloom but there are other options. These are some things that I’ve tried with varying degrees of success.

Harvesting pests

This is the most effective one for aphids and caterpillars and has the added advantage of real time results. Pick the most affected leaves for dinner and then soak them in salted water for 10 mins then rinse until clean. This removes the pests from the garden and washes them down the sink without introducing poisons. Anything too gross to consider eating can be put into the bin (not compost). 

I like to grow things that you pick regularly from over a long season e.g. perennial kale that you can pick from all year round, or chard that you can pick for about a year before the plant needs to be replaced. If you’re harvesting from the plants at least once a week (it can be every day in the summer) then you’ll see all the signs of pest damage and can deal with it quickly.

The night hunt

I also like to go ‘hunting’. There is an instinct in many humans to go forage, gather and hunt. There’s no reason why we must go after animals as sport, there’s plenty of satisfaction in going out just after dark (when leaf chomping pests are very active) with a pair of disposable chopsticks and an old jar and capturing slugs, snails and moth caterpillars by torch light. It’s sounds rather disgusting (and it is) but it is also incredibly satisfying. What you do with them after is entirely up to you. I have drowned them and then left them outside to be eaten (or decomposed) or sealed them in a bag and chucked them into the bin. I told you I wasn’t nice.

The large snails were apparently introduced to Britain by the Romans as food. You could ‘clean’ the snails by feeding them on safe leaves, such as lettuce, (as they accumulate toxins from the plants that they feed on) for a few days and them eat them as escargot, but I’m afraid that is currently a step too far for me. Maybe do some research on this first – please don’t poison yourselves.

Encouraging natural controls

Looking back at the food chain, and the bigger food webs you can see what predators are suitable for your needs and either encourage them into your garden, or even buy some to release.

BIRDS: Encourage small birds into your garden with bird feeders, water trays and some cover, like bushes and trees. You can also plant some bushes with overwintering berries. The trees we added were fruit trees, which are not yet big enough, but some day they’ll provide useful shelter. If you provide nesting conditions you may be rewarded with extra ravenous chicks to eat bugs. Many of the garden birds will happily eat the caterpillars and snails. Even some birds with seed-based diets, like finches, will happily eat aphids for you. Some of the birds may also eat some of my berry harvest but so far, they haven’t been a problem and I wouldn’t begrudge them some as a thank you for eating the pests. If it becomes too much, then I can also use netting to protect the berries. My mum finds that wood pigeons (who don’t really eat insects) are a pest in her garden, eating the young brassica seedlings, but this is also easily solved with a bit of netting.

AMPHIBIANS: Frogs and toads don’t need a pond to make a home in your garden. They only need one for breeding. In our rainy UK weather, our garden seems to have enough damp, as there has been many a frog sighting in the past year. You will need to eliminate chemicals, especially slug pellets. It’s not just what they’re eating, but amphibians have semi permeable skin so even exposure to spraying is harmful. You can also provide places for them to hide, such as an upturned pot with a gap at the bottom or areas of long grass for them to hide in. They love hiding behind the clutter around our waterbutt, in our unkempt grass edges, under the rosemary bushes or behind the Chinese chive patch.

HEDGEHOGS: I’m not entirely sure if we’ve had a hedgehog, but I saw a poo that I really hoped may have been from a hedgehog. I don’t even know if there are any in our area as there are many foxes and cats about. If you have a fenced garden, providing a gap at ground level for them to get in can help. You can provide a hibernating spot with a pile of logs, pile of dead leaves or a compost heap (or even a special hedgehog house). Just be careful if you do clear up piles of leaves or turn your compost. Slug pellets are also terribly bad for them, so another good reason to avoid.

BENEFICIAL INSECTS: The main thing is by avoiding pesticides you protect the beneficial insects. It’s then worth encouraging predatory insects like ladybirds and lacewings by providing somewhere to overwinter. You could investigate a bug hotel of some sorts but do some research into the type of insects you are looking to attract and what they need. Apparently, some of the ones on the market look good but aren’t very functional. They will also need some maintenance and need to be kept in shady, sheltered places. I have picked off ladybird nymphs from roadside trees and put them in the garden in the past. I don’t know if they stayed.

Ladybirds eat spider mites. Spider mites cause most damage when the weather is hot. They do less well in rainy periods. They do respond to pesticides, but then you’ll kill the predatory insects too. In the past I’ve controlled these very effectively by removing all the affected leaves and spraying the plant well with a hose and then spraying with a solution of rosemary oil and water which is said to discourage the mites without harming their predators.

There are also a host of specific parasitic creatures you can buy to target a particular problem. We had a ridiculous amount of whitefly one year and bought sachets of Encarsia Formosa, which is a tiny (smaller than a millimetre) parasitic wasp that lays eggs in the scales of the whitefly. They are really only for use in a greenhouse where you can keep the population captive and protected, but we used them outside, and they were still fairly effective.

The damage to this leaf has been done by a leaf miner which is the larvae of a fly. Pesticides wouldn’t have been much use here anyway as the pest is protected by the leaf. Either a pesticide that is absorbed by the plant (possibly making it inedible) is required, or spraying needs to be timed for when the larvae has turned into a fly and emerges. For leaf miners there is a parasitic wasp you can buy but it’s easy enough to remove and bin affected leaves.


You can buy sticky traps for things like whitefly or you can make a slug trap out of an old plastic bottle and some beer. I’ll do a proper post on this to put in the ‘things to do’ section.

Copper Tape

You can buy copper tape that you can stick around pots under the rim. It supposed to work as a barrier that slugs and snails can’t cross as their mucus reacts with an unpleasant feeling. Apparently it need to be fairly thick to be effective or they stretch across. Also be aware that the adhesive sometime is a bit poor. We’ve used these on pots and they seem to be effective. It’s hard to tell though if the plants in those pots would have been fine anyway. There’s plenty of other things they can eat in the garden without having to climb a pot. If the copper is even slightly unpleasant for them they could probably go elsewhere.


Yes, creatures have got to eat, they’re only doing what nature intended them to do. I would just like them to stick to eating a whole leaf at a time and not leave leaf doilies, or could they wait till a plant has grown lovely and big. They could have tender tips then. I wouldn’t mind so much. The frustration of a seedling eaten across a stem or an asparagus tip nibbled to death before it can fulfil it’s slender juicy destiny is the original reason I used to use pellets.

Cloches made out of old bottles have become my go to now for precious seedlings. Alternatively, plant for redundancy. Assume that a few of your seedlings won’t make it and plant a few more.

So… I’m just hoping to encourage the use of methods other than pesticides in the garden. If you have any helpful hints or anything that worked especially well for you, please feel free to share in the comments.


Short version:

A yellow berry that grows inside an attractive case. It has seeds like a tomato and tastes sweet when ripe with a pineapple like tang. The plant grows up to 5 feet tall, prefers full sun but is not particularly fussy about soil types. It can be perennial when protected in winter and self-seeds in an unpredictable (I’ll explain what I mean) but not overly aggressive way.

I’m calling it physalis through this page but I’m are specifically talking about Physalis Peruviana. Also called cape gooseberry, Inca berry or ground cherry. There are other physalis – like Chinese lanterns – which, though beautiful, are not particularly edible.

Physalis is a fruit that is occasionally found in supermarkets or sitting proudly on top of your dessert in a posh restaurant. They look lovely and taste great.

I planted seeds in 2014, in a pot, in our last home which was a paved over yard. The extra heat from all the concrete provided a great environment for the ripening of the fruit. I haven’t had to sow seeds again since. It is usually annual when grown outdoors in the UK. With winter protection and/or mild winters it can be a perennial.

Sowing seeds

You can start them indoors in pots around a month and a half before the last frosts are expected. They need to be sown fairly shallow (just place on the surface and sprinkle a little bit of compost over the top), then kept warm and moist. I would suggest one seed per pot as it can become quite a monster, unless you’re happy to plant a few together and then only let the strongest one live. I find it really hard to not feel guilty killing healthy plants. Can you imagine taking that attitude towards pets or children?

Planting out

Once all danger of frost has passed and the plant has a few leaves you can plant in a sunny spot. It doesn’t seem to be too bothered with soil types and does fine in a large pot. It is advisable to harden them off by placing the plants outside during the day and bringing them back in for the night for a few days. The stems can grow tall but will fall over and sprawl if not supported.

This monster is one single plant in a border in my front garden. It has reached over 5ft. At the front and to the right you can see the stems have fallen over in a bid to take over.


Okay… so I did these first two steps in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I planted about 8 seeds. I ended up with far too many plants. If you have too many plants in a pot, they won’t grow particularly large (around 2 ft) but you will still get fruit. They were a bit of an unruly, bushy mass which was a welcome sight in my paved yard.

The berries grow inside green cases which turn yellow and papery. That’s when you know that they’re ripe and edible. They make me think of bananas. Not because of the taste, but because these lovely cases keep the fruit clean so even when the fruit has dropped it can be removed from their protective husk and eaten straight away. My little one loves foraging for ripe berries as we leave for school or come home. She sometimes stuffs them in her pocket for a snack later. The fruit tastes only very slightly like pineapples, with that tart pineapple tang. When very ripe they are lovely and sweet. I don’t really think that I have anything to compare them to. There are hard little seeds similar in size to tomatoes that I like to chew, but some people don’t appreciate them so much. There can be a bit of a bitter residue on the outside of the berry that comes from the papery case, reminiscent of earwax (I don’t eat earwax – but who didn’t taste their own as a child? Er…Only me? OK). If you wash the whole thing with the cases on, this taste becomes more prominent so – dehusk and wash the berries separately. I’ve read the residue comes off more easily with a bit of vinegar (so… really… quite earwax like no?) but they never make it as far as the kitchen in this house. We’ve found that the berries ripen gradually over about 1-2 months, depending on the weather so we pick them as they ripen and eat them straight away. Towards the end of the season you will probably experience a glut.   


So… as I’ve said, I planted it once. The next year I wasn’t going to grow them as we only had this tiny yard and a finite number of pots. I was going to try something else but in 2015 they came up through cracks in the pavement. One was in front of the bike shed so I rescued that and put it in a pot. The rest I just let them get on with it. They grew fine and we had some bonus unplanned fruit. This is how I knew it was resilient and would grow just about anywhere. These plants were only in part sun and still did OK.

In 2016 I had the baby to deal with and so neglected the garden a bit more. There were no new seedlings that year, but the one in the pot from the previous year grew back. It must have been in a particularly warm and sheltered spot as there were no other plants.

In 2017 we moved house and took a self-seeded one in a pot with us. It was probably too small a pot, didn’t like the move, the lack of water or in fact the complete neglect as it only gave us about 5 berries.

In 2018 there was nothing. I didn’t expect anything with so little fruit the previous year and therefore no chance of a stray berry self-seeding itself.

In the spring of 2019 in one of the pots a physalis plant turned up. I was very excited. Around 25 pots of various sizes came with us in the move. Most of the plants were in pots in preparation to be planted into the new garden. One or two plants have remained in their pots and the compost in the pots have generally been moved around and/or added to the compost bin every now and then. I guess there was a seed that hadn’t germinated that had received its ideal conditions this year. The spring was warm, and the seed must have made it close to the surface of the soil. I put it straight into the front garden where it received plenty of sun and the concrete slabs and adjacent brick wall would retain and reflect the heat.

I then found a single physalis seedling hiding in the asparagus patch in June. The asparagus is at the very end of the garden, nowhere near the pots. It was a bit of a puzzler, but I realised that that particular asparagus crown was planted in a very, very (asparagus doesn’t tend to do so well in pots) big pot in the previous garden when the physalis were triffid-like. I don’t know how many years that seed was dormant. It could be anything from 3-5 years. It won’t mature in time to product fruit this year so I’ve put it in a pot and intend overwinter it in the house and see how it goes next year.

Therefore, I think it’s a wonderful resilient plant that self-seeds, but not too rampantly and can be perennial if kept warm enough and frost free.    


The flowers are hermaphrodite and easily pollinated by insects. I have never had to do anything to help it along. They are evidently self-fertile as I only have the one mature plant this year and it’s fruiting wonderfully. The plant has been merrily self-seeding and I haven’t noticed a change in the fruit. Therefore the seeds are true to the parent plant so this is a berry that you can save seeds from.

Diseases and pests

So far in my experiences with physalis – one year I had problems with two tone spider mites. The leaves developed a mottled yellow and brown appearance. If you do have these spider mites – when you look underneath the leaves with a microscope you’ll see these tiny mites with these two spots on their backs about the size of a fine grain of sand. They are very hard to get rid of. You’ll need to remove and destroy any leaves that are affected. We tried a spray with a few drops of rosemary oil in it. I think in the end we kept them at bay by removing leaves and spraying twice a couple of weeks apart. To be honest I can’t be certain how much the rosemary oil helped. It may have been the removal of about half of the leaves and dampening the plant that did it, as they thrive in hot, dry conditions.

Otherwise the plants haven’t had any issues. They seems very easy to care for.

Therefore this plant with the soft velvety leaves is a winner in my opinion. I’ll overwinter the random asparagus invader and maybe keep it in a pot to take in again next winter to see how long it’ll survive for. I’ll also keep seeds from a berry in case I want to grow them again and the unpredictability of the self seeding doesn’t go in my favour one year. I suspect it will remain a firm favourite with my little one and I won’t have to pay through the teeth to buy them in the supermarket.

They take so little care that if you’ve eaten the fruit before and are a fan, and you have a garden of any sorts, please please do give these a go… or… a grow! Tee hee.