Inch by Inch: Fruit flies

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in Features

Inch by Inch: Fruit flies

If you're a biology student, fruit flies are fascinating. If you're an organic gardener with a lot of produce to process, not so much.

And this is prime fruit-fly season, isn't it? The annoying little buggers find the produce on the counter before it's there for a minute or two. 

While fruit flies aren't typically dangerous, even if you eat them accidentally, they aren't particularly appetizing, either. And while they don't appear by spontaneous generation, their eggs and larva and cocoons (yes, they do make wee cocoons) are often hard to spot and live in places you'd never expect.

So this issue of Inch by Inch deals with how to ward off fruit flies without poison, and how to keep them from populating your hard-won produce.

1.  Cleanliness is next to fruit flylessness. Although perfectly clean kitchens will attract flies if there is produce there, you don't have to encourage them by leaving drops of jam on the counters or not cleaning up completely after a spill. Keep a small bucket and sponge soaking in a vinegar/water mix and clean up any spill immediately during fly season.  Clean under the toaster every day, and clean out the dishwasher bottom, where Gunk collects. 

2.  Compost. One of the main culprits in the organic kitchen is, of course, the compost bin. To discourage the flies, clean it carefully between dump-outs, and scrub with baking soda, then rinse. Clean under the rim, where you might find a few fruit-fly cocoons. Then rinse again, with vinegar this time, and keep a tablespoon or so of wet vinegar at any given time. The vinegar will prevent the produce in the bin from breaking down quite so fast, but in the summer, it doesn't matter all that much.

3.  Cedar. Get some cedar blocks or balls that you might use to store your sweaters in, and put them in places where the flies congregate ... near the trash, near the recycling, near the compost bin. For some reason, they do not like cedar, and they may find more hospitable places to go. Some people we know have installed cedar strips all around their kitchen cabinets, which seems a trifle extreme, but it works. You can use cedar mulch on your houseplants if fruit flies are finding a home there, too.

4.  Get rid of all rotting fruit, it goes without saying. You don't want it anyway; it can cause healthy fruit to get corrupted, too. Into the compost bin immediately.

5.  Make your own traps. We discovered that fruit flies love lemonade, so we used an old fruit-fly trap and filled it with lemonade. (They'll go after anything sweet, and are attracted by vinegar, too.) You can use a small water bottle or a soda bottle, too. They are all over it. 

6.  Trash and recycling. Take the trash out every day, or wrap up material that might attract the flies. Clean the bins and put baking soda in them to discourage odors.  Recycling should go out as often as possible. You don't care if your friends are hanging around the outside recycling bin or trash can, do you?

7.  Bring in the natural enemies. Does your kid have a turtle or a lizard? Try bringing the habitat into the kitchen for a while, and put a piece of fruit in it. Do you have finches? Bring them in for a while. Find a spider in the house? Relocate her to the kitchen for a while. 

8.  The drains. Fruit flies and sewer flies (almost indistinguishable) live in drains. Make sure the drains are clean, and that no dishes are allowed to linger in kitchen sinks. Pour some vinegar down the drain ... though fruit flies are attracted to vinegar, it will kill them. 

9.  Fly paper.  Although it's rather disgusting, fly paper will take care of the problem. It's sticky, there are nontoxic versions (TAT, for instance) and fruit flies aren't the brightest bulbs in the box ... they blunder into it easily. 

Fear not, they'll be gone with the first snow. But you don't have to live with this perennial nuisance, either. 

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