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The Basics
There are several pests described as 'fruit fly' in Australia. The main one in the eastern states is Queensland fruit fly (Q fly) Bactrocera tryoni, which is native to rainforest habitat on the east coast of Australia. Other pest fruit flies include the Mediterranean fruit fly (Med fly) Ceratitis capitata, an introduced species currently only present in WA and the Cucumber fly Bactrocera cucumis. Cucumber fly is a major pest of melons, pumpkins and zucchini, it is similar in appearance to Qld fruit fly but is a bit larger. The fruits most commonly attacked by Q fly and Med fly are figs, cherries, stone fruit, apples, pears, loquats, guavas, feijoas, tomatoes and capsicum. There are over 200 native species of fruit fly in Australia, only a few are a problem for gardeners but can be a very significant one.
Suggested Organic Strategies:
  • Increase habitats for predators, such as ants, ground beetles, spiders and birds.
  • Clean up all infected fruit as soon as possible. To destroy the maggots, immerse fruit in water or even better place in a pot, bring to the boil and then feed it to poultry, or try placing fruit in a sealed, black plastic bag in the sun.
  • Use your orchard as a poultry forage area, to aid fruit fly control.
  • Select early fruiting trees, to miss the onslaught of fruit fly.
  • Grow dwarf varieties or keep trees small.
Handy Hint: The tiny flies that hover around the fruit bowl are fungal gnats, not fruit flies.

Organic Strategies for Fruit Fly Control Frances Michaels

Fruit fly is responsible for more bad language from gardeners than any other pest. If you are lucky enough to live in a fruit fly free zone then count your blessings and do your bit to keep it that way. If you live in fruit fly zone, unless you are prepared to put in effort from year to year then a chainsaw may be your best solution. Fruit fly is a pest that needs a community approach; it could be the perfect opportunity to meet your neighbours for a street BBQ so you can plan a coordinated effort.

The female flies lay their eggs in small groups just beneath the skin of fruit. The larvae are referred to as 'maggots' and are creamy white, tapering towards the head and between 7-9 mm long when fully grown. Mediterranean adult flies are 4-5 mm long with a yellow body and mottled wings. Q fly develop from eggs to adults within 5 weeks in hot weather, Med fly take only 4 weeks. The maggots hatch and by their feeding as well as bacteria they carry, cause the fruit to rot and drop. When the maggots are fully grown they leave the fruit and burrow into the soil, where they pupate. Adults can live for many weeks and flies commonly over-winter as adults, becoming active when the weather warms up around August and gradually the population builds to a peak in late summer.

Physical and Cultural Controls

All damaged fruit must be destroyed to break the cycle of infection. Remove any fruit from the tree with dimples or weeping clear sap as this is a sign that eggs have already been laid in the fruit. Destroy the fruit by feeding it to poultry, immersing it in water, or cooking it in a sealed, black plastic bag in the sun. Keep a container handy in the garden to dispose of infected fruit straight away. Getting in early is more effective than picking up rotten fruit from the ground as the maggots may have already left the fruit to pupate.

Ideally it would be best to avoid planting fruit fly prone trees - see below. Year-round management will be easier with dwarf or multi-grafted fruit trees. Alternatively you need the skill, time and tools to keep trees under 2.5 m high. A good rule of thumb when pruning stone fruit is that if you can't reach it, cut it off. In areas that have long cold winters fruit fly die off, making control simpler to achieve. In these areas early fruiting trees may miss the onslaught of fruit fly whereas late fruiting trees may be severely affected, due to population numbers increasing, through successive generations. Avoid planting fruits that you rarely eat, as these can become a source of reinfestation. Consider replacing poor quality and overgrown diseased trees with some newer varieties. If you really want to grow stone fruit then dwarf trees or espalier trees will make management easier.

Baits and Traps
Preventing female fruit flies from laying eggs is fundamental to achieve your aim of luscious, ripe, home grown fruit. Fruit fly products, other than the highly undesirable blanket spraying of a systemic chemical, generally are effective for either male or female flies, not both. The exception to this is the newly released Cera Trap and Eco-Naturalure, which are effective for both. The Cera Trap and Eco-Naturalure are both organic fruit fly baits.

Eco-Naturalure is an organic, complete fruit fly control system for Q and Med fruit fly. It is a protein based bait, highly attractive to both male and female fruit flies, containing the biologically produced insecticide spinosad. It is mixed with water and applied as a spot spray every 7 days. You can apply either to the trunk or foliage of fruit trees; or onto 2 boards at either end of a growing area 100 m2. It is particularly useful for large or heavy bearing fruit trees such as mango and citrus where exclusion products are difficult to use.

The Cera Trap is for the attraction and mass trapping of Queensland (Q) and Mediterranean (Med) male and female fruit fly. With this non-toxic, long lasting, food based protein liquid solution you can for the first time 'set and forget' a trap for these destructive pests in WA, VIC, QLD and NSW. This well designed and proven product (throughout Australia, Spain, Israel and Mexico) does not require you to decide which type of fly or which sex you are catching. Just open the jar, attach the lid and hang adjacent to your susceptible crop.

The Insectrap is a non-toxic, sticky, yellow, cylindrical trap that attracts and kills Med Fly (present in W.A. only). The trap is weatherproof and waterproof. The attractant within the trap is food based and attracts the male and female Med Fly for 3 - 4 months. An excellent early detection and monitoring tool. Use 2 traps for a tree up to 2 metres high and 4 traps for trees over 2 metres in height.

The products that attract male flies are based on pheromones or 'sex attractants'. These include Queensland Fruit Fly Trap and Wild May Fruit Fly Attractant. All are useful as effective 'early warning system' monitoring tools to help you recognize the start of the fruit fly season. Many gardeners will be familiar with the disappointment of only noticing fruit fly when it is too late and the fruit is stung and full of maggots. Traps for monitoring should be in place by late winter, in a position where they will be easily observed. Many people find that by trapping large numbers of male flies, the local population of breeding fruit flies is reduced thereby helping to reduce damage. However, as the habitat for these flies is widespread including native landscapes, reserves, home gardens, and commercial orchards, it is not considered sufficient control to only trap the males.

Trapping fruit flies in containers with small entrance holes is generally ineffective as female fruit flies are unwilling to enter traps. Even though it may appear as though the trap is full of flies these are unlikely to be female fruit flies. Research on a range of homemade traps has found less than 1-2% of the insects caught are fruit fly.
Recent research has found that Q fly responds best to a blue colour while Med fly responds best to yellow. Homemade traps of coloured styrofoam balls covered with a non-drying glue may catch a lot of fruit flies. Researchers in the USA have found coffee bean juice from ground up ripe coffee berries a great success as bait for female Med flies.

The most effective organic solution for the home gardener is exclusion. This simply involves covering either the individual piece of fruit, fruit clusters or the whole tree. It sounds time consuming but can be surprisingly easy and fast compared to the process of donning protective gear and spraying a chemical control several times through the fruiting season. Commercial fruit fly exclusion bags are available in either waxed paper or cloth. In SE Asia newspaper is glued to make a bag to cover fruit.
Excluding fruit fly from the entire tree is also possible by using a lightweight fabric such as an exclusion fabric, mosquito netting, shadecloth or nylon flyscreen material. These generally need to be supported by a frame. Only leave these covers in place for the period that fruit is ripening to avoid damage to the tree.

Using Exclusion Products
This easy 'set and forget' method needs to be in place early in the season, ideally as soon as the fruit is pollinated i.e. when the flower petals drop. Some fruits, like tomatoes and capsicums are self-pollinated and can be covered any time. Choose from either exclusion fabrics (Frost Guard Cloth, Fruit Saver Net, Grow Tunnel Kit and Vege Net) or exclusion bags or sleeves (PestGuard Bags, Paper Exclusion Bags, Stone Fruit Bags, Cloth Fruit Bags, Mesh Sleeves and Mesh Bags). Check the size of the fruit to make sure the bag selected will fit. Often a combination of products will be needed on a single tree so try the Exclusion Bag Sampler. The Cloth Fruit Bags, Mesh Bags and Mesh Sleeves also offer protection from birds and possums.

Early in the season, thin any fruit such as peaches or nectarines, to a spacing of 20-25 cm. Then simply place a bag or sleeve over each remaining fruit or clusters of fruit. Tie on, taking care to avoid knots that will be hard to undo later. Fruit ripens beautifully inside the covers and may also be larger and sweeter. Covering the fruit with these products does not interfere with ripening as it is the leaves that are primarily responsible for photosynthesis.

Cloth Fruit Bags are a great idea to protect fruit from fruit fly, but strong enough to protect it from marauding possums, fruit bats and birds. Also useful for the control of codling moth. These bags are sturdy washable calico cloth with a drawstring; they can be used year after year. The fruit ripens fully within the bag.

Stone Fruit Bags are easy to use for stone fruit including peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. This horticultural waxed-paper bag is specifically designed to attach around the lateral branch rather than the fruit stem.

Mesh Bags and Mesh Sleeves: these innovative products are made of sturdy UV resistant fly screen. The sleeves are open at both ends and come in two sizes: 600 mm by 250 mm and 800 mm x 300 mm. They are designed to slide along a branch, or over a large bunch, and protect fruit from fruit fly, birds and possums. Once in position, it can be tied closed with the attached long lasting 'brickies string'.
The bags come in two sizes: 300 mm x 250 mm and 600 mm x 500 mm. The smaller bag suits any individual or small clustering fruit while the larger size would suit fruit with several pieces closer to the end of a branch (loquat, mango, lychee etc).

Paper Exclusion Bags: enjoy unsprayed, fruit fly free fruit with this organic solution for the home gardener! These imported waxed paper fruit bags come in 2 sizes, the smaller size is suitable for nectarines, peaches and persimmons, the larger size for mangoes. Early in the season, thin the fruit, then simply twist a bag over each remaining cluster of fruit, using the built-in twist-tie. Also useful for the control of codling moth. Offers some protection from birds and may last more than one season.

PestGuard Bags are THE organic tomato solution! With this unique product, designed by Green Harvest, you will be able to protect your tomato bunches from many of the major pests including fruit fly and tomato grub. PestGuard Bags are made of spun bonded polypropylene that is UV stable, however, it is still considered to have an 'in-use' life of only 1-3 years. Air, water and foliar-based fertilisers will penetrate the white gauze-like fabric, which has a 20% shade factor, much lower than shadecloth. Slip the lightweight 30 cm x 30 cm bag on and close with the attached tie to protect the entire tomato bunch. Please note these bags are not strong enough to cope with a hungry possum or fruit bat!

Biological Controls

Fruit fly has no specific predator, generalist predators include: braconid wasps which are egg parasites; ants and ground beetles feed on maggots; spiders catch adults in webs; predatory flying insects such as dragonflies and robber flies; birds such as swallows, Restless Flycatchers and Willy Wagtails. Increasing the range of habitats available will not give full control but will inevitably give a wide range of benefits.

Poultry are an enormous help in fruit fly control. If you design your orchard to incorporate chooks they will reward you by turning rotten fruit into eggs and happily spend hours scratching beneath trees looking for fruit fly pupae. Adult fruit flies are trapped on the ground for up to 24 hours after emerging from the pupae as it takes this long for their wings to harden. During this time the adult flies are also vulnerable to a roving chook. Where it isn't possible to allow chooks free range, small demountable fences can be used under trees vulnerable to attack by fruit fly.

Fruit Fly Resistant Fruit
Avocado, avoid thin-skinned Fuerte and Rincon
Blueberry, sometimes affected
Citrus, avoid thin-skinned varieties such as Meyer lemon
Custard Apple, winter ripening varieties are best
Grapes, sometimes affected
Ice Cream Bean
Longan and Lychee
Mulberry, sometimes affected
Nashi Pears, sometimes affected
Persimmon, early varieties like Fuyu are susceptible

Suggested Products:
Cera Trap
Cloth Fruit Bags
Exclusion Bag Sampler
Frost Guard Cloth
Fruit Saver Net
Grow Tunnel Kit
Mesh Bags
Mesh Sleeves
Paper Exclusion Bags
PestGuard Bags
Queensland Fruit Fly Traps
Stone Fruit Bags
Vege Net
Wild May Fruit Fly Attractant and Traps

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