Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Summer harvest brings in unwanted visitors

September 4, 2008

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Fruit flies must know a secret way into the kitchen. They seem to be especially annoying this year, probably because the cool summer has allowed me to leave my windows open more than usual. If you have ever let a tomato sit on the counter a little too long, you are likely to experience the same problem.

Adult fruit flies are about one-eighth inch long and often have red eyes. They are more easily identified by the way they hover around the bananas and squash on the counter, just looking for a little rotten spot to call home.

If you have fruit flies in your house, construct a trap to help eliminate them. Pour a few ounces of cider vinegar into a jar, or place a slice of banana in the bottom of the jar. Use a piece of paper to make a funnel and place it in the top of the jar with the small end of the funnel down inside the jar. Dispose of the caught insects or release them outside.

You will also have to get rid of any potential breeding sites. Clean the trash can and recycling bins, discard of any overripe fruit or veggies that are still around, and double check the pantry for potatoes and onions that are starting to decay. If you suspect the flies are breeding in the garbage disposal, tape a clear plastic bag over the opening overnight to catch emerging adults.

The next question is: How do they get in your house? Windows and doors with inadequate screens are a major source of entry. Tight-fitting, 16-mesh screen is needed to exclude the flies; the tiniest gap allows access to your home.

The other way that fruit flies get into your kitchen is one you might want to wait to read about until after breakfast. The insects can be brought in on already infested overripe produce.

The really disgusting part is that all the flies need to breed is moisture. One female fruit fly will lay about 500 eggs in whatever moist spot they can find - be it a rotten apple or a wet dishrag or mop. Within a week, each egg is a full-grown adult.

The good news is that fly larvae only feed in the surface of the decaying material - so the bad spot on the pepper can be cut away and discarded without fear of flies being in the rest of the fruit. The decaying area may be contaminated with bacteria, though, so do dispose of it.

If you make wine, cider or beer in your home, or preserve your own fruits and vegetables, fruit flies can be especially annoying. If containers are not sealed tightly enough, female flies can lay eggs under lids. This allows larvae to enter the container before it is opened and could contaminate it with bacteria. Take special care to make sure lids are tightly sealed and eliminate potential breeding sites.

Even though the fruit flies are annoying, they will not stop me from loading my table with this summer's bounty. I just have to use it more quickly.

Questions about fruit flies and other pests can be answered by Douglas County Master Gardeners at 843-7058 or dgemg@sunflower.com. The Garden Hotline is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but you can leave a message anytime.

- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or <a href="mailto:smithjen@ksu.edu">smithjen@ksu.edu</a>.

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