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It's the epitome of disappointment. You pick what looks like a perfect, ripened piece of fruit from your fruit tree and anticipating a delicious snack, cut into it. Little wriggling creatures wave their greeting. Yep you've been hit with fruit fly. And suddenly those trees laden with ripe fruit look like a picture of disappointment, not success.
Fruit flies are a big problem in a small package. In Australia, there are thought to be around 60 species of fruit flies that can ruin your crops. The problem is so great for orchardists that a National Fruit Fly Council was established in 2015 to look at a nationwide solution to the problem.
Despite the large amount of fruit fly species, most of the damage to fruit in Australia falls to two major culprits - the exotic Mediterranean Fruit Fly in the western half of the country and the Queensland Fruit Fly in the east. Fruit fly activity is generally linked warmer weather, starting in spring for both varieties.
If you have fruit trees on your land, no doubt you'll have to deal with fruit fly at some stage. Knowing how to deal with and eradicate fruit fly is important if you want to successfully grow fruit on your small farm and limit the spread of the pest to neighbouring properties.
Fruit fly can affect a whole range of fruit that you may grow on your property including apples, stone fruit, figs, grapes, citrus and tomatoes. Signs that your fruit may be affected include:
There are four stages to the life cycle of fruit flies, and each stage can affect your crops:
The female adult fly lays eggs into the maturing and ripening fruit of the host plant. You probably won't notice eggs in your fruit, although you may be able to spot puncture wounds.
The eggs hatch into larvae within a few days, and the larvae feed on the flesh of the fruit which causes the fruit to prematurely ripen and rot. This is the most likely stage that you would recognise the presence of fruit fly in your fruit if you cut it open.
As the fruit ripens and rots, it falls to the ground. Fully mature larvae leave the fruit and burrow into the soil to pupate. In the soil, larvae become inactive and change into oval, light to dark brown, hard pupae, in which adult flies develop.
Adult flies may emerge from the pupae in as little as a week in warm weather, or a few months later in cooler seasons. You may be able to recognise adult flies landing on or hovering around fruit, looking for the nourishment they needs to reach maturity and breed in your next crop.
Traps and baits
Traps and attractants are designed to lure and kill fruit flies, and work by placing traps on host trees and other sites around the garden to draw fruit flies away from host produce. Baits can be also be used to reduce fruit fly numbers. Baits consist of a protein attractant mixed with an insecticide which is spot-sprayed onto the trunks or foliage of host plants. Adult flies are attracted to the bait droplets as a food source and killed by the insecticide.
The Cera Organic Fruit Fly Trap is one example. The trap contains a unique protein based liquid solution that is very attractive to female and male fruit fly of both Queensland fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly species. The smell of the liquid lures the fruit fly into a specially designed trap, where they will drown. Although it attracts both genders, this trap particularly targets females. Many growers prefer to choose organic products such as this that don't place any pesticides near their edible produce.
Pruning fruit trees keeps them to a manageable size to allow easier harvesting of fruit and application of netting, cover sprays or baits.
Planting early-maturing produce and harvesting early in the season removes host fruit before fruit flies become more active as temperatures increase.
Using physical barriers to stop fruit flies from reaching your fruit and vegetables. This can include mosquito nets covering the whole tree and secured to the trunk, and bags and sleeves placed directly over the fruit you want to keep and secured with wires, pegs or string. You do need to ensure there is a gap between the netting and the fruit as enterprising female fruit flies can pierce the fruit through the netting.
Collect and destroy any rotting or unwanted host fruit, whether it is on the ground or still on the plant. Destroy any maggots by sealing in a plastic bag and leaving in the sun for up to a week, or freezing for two days before putting into garbage. Do not compost infected fruit or put it into your worm farm.
Cover sprays are generally applied to foliage and developing fruit to destroy eggs and larvae.
If you have fruit fly on your small farm, it's likely your neighbours could be affected too. The most effective approach is for everyone in your area to look out for signs of fruit fly activity and be diligent about managing it together.
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