Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina
How do you know when peak canning season has commenced at my house? No, it’s not the 8-quart pressure canner parked permanently on the stove. It’s not the navy blue enamelware water bath canner constantly steaming up the already hot kitchen. Look beyond the stacks of quart, pint and jelly jars; the lids and rings. I don’t mark the time by the pantry shelves’ increasing rows of colorful, filled jars. It’s not even the piles of ripened vegetables and fruits all over the darn place…
However, the growing piles of produce are definitely a clue.
Look close! The biggest sign is the smallest of items. Want a hint?
In previous years I have struggled with herds of these annoying little guys. They seem to swell in numbers as summer ends and fall begins. When you are committed to keeping your life as chemical-free as possible (as we try to be), pest management seems like just a joke to the notorious fruit fly. Of course a randy, active sex life doesn’t hurt population growth either.
Ok, Gina, did you have to illustrate that point???
We got it already!!
Drosophila and I go way back to our college days where I spent many eye-strained days in lab trying to determine whether the batch of newly metamorphized flies I raised were made up of the ultra-cool wildtypes with their sinister red eyes or the more demure mutants with the quiet dark stare. If you were really lucky, you might find the queen of kings, the white-eyed fly! After days and days of counting thousands of fly eyes, at night, you could still see them staring at you when you closed your own eyes. Fancy a bit of biology-nerd trivia? Drosophila happens to be the most studied organism in the life sciences. Or, how about this, 75% of Homo sapiens’ disease genes have a almost exact match found within the genetic code of the ubiquitous fruit fly.
This year I have been determined not to let them get the best of me. I don’t care if we share disease similarity or not. First, I have been canning the vegetables gleaned from garden and market as quickly as I bring them into the house. The canners have been going since about mid-July. Every night, rain or shine, I ready the produce for preservation, determined to keep D. melanogastor from taking up residence here at the new house. It’s also been good for that disease I sometimes suffer from called Laziness. I wonder if that is one of the 25% of disease genes we don’t share with Drosophila…
Of course, this has been impossible. The fruit flies are still quietly taking over my life.
A week ago, I placed six nearly ripened tomatoes on the window sill. Yesterday, as I prepared to can my first batch of tomatoes I grabbed one of the Romas off the sill. It disintegrated into mush in my grasp and exploded into hundreds of flies. All around me, this swarm of Drosophila mocked my every move. I checked, but couldn’t see, whether these guys were mutants or the wildtypes. Either way, I realized the 2008 battle with the fruit flies was officially on.
So, how do you combat them if you don’t want to use chemicals (a much worse problem than the basically harmless fruit fly, in my opinion)? Well, you first must realize that these flies will be attracted to almost any type of food they can dance their thorax on. I blamed the tomatoes in the window, but they could have just as easily been attracted to my bucket of food scraps I give the pigs and chickens at the end of the day or even the wet dish towel I leave lying around. Knowing that, by keeping food processed, covered, stored or disposed, I can help eliminate larval breeding grounds. The flies generally do not pose a health issue to humans, other than stress. Around August and on through October, the flies are at peak population. Once colder weather hits, I let our house get cold and this does seem to help decrease the amount of flies about the house.
As a canner, a gardener or just the simple fact I like fresh fruit & veggies in the house, I will never be completely free of this pesky organism, but if I have to I will resort to my Plan B to keep from feeling overran by Drosophila during the canning season. I will not, however, resort to poisons. Here is a simple fruit fly trap I build using one of my extra quart Mason jars (extra? What extra?!) I will share with you my secret fruit fly defense mechanism.
Find a Mason jar and paint the top third black (or cover it with paper). Coat the inside of the jar with honey, syrup or vegetable oil. Invert the jar over bait such as crushed tomatoes on a used canning lid or some other repurposed object. Rest the jar upside down on two blocks of wood to allow flies space enough to feed on the bait. After leaving the bait, they will fly upwards to the lighter portion of the jar. The sticky substance traps and kills them! The trap will lose its stickiness or fill up with flies and must have the honey or oil reapplied every 30 days or so. Also, you’ll want to replace the rotting vegetable or fruit (bait) as needed.
Illustration from Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-2109-97
If you really want to get sassy with science thing, you can count how many wildtypes (red-eyed) vs. mutants (any other color eyes) you have in the jar and figure out what alleles are dominant in your fruit fly population. However, be forewarned, not only is this tedious chore, but it may also get you labeled as a freaky biology-loving geek!