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Vermont Garden Journal: Protecting Berries From A New Pest

When growing fall raspberries or blueberries, you'll need to protect them from a new pest known as the drosophila fruit fly.
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When growing fall raspberries or blueberries, you'll need to protect them from a new pest known as the drosophila fruit fly.

If you're growing fall raspberries or blueberries, chances are you're starting to see this pest. Or you're seeing the symptoms of this pest. If you've noticed your ripening blueberries or raspberries shriveling on the plant or turning into a maggot-filled mess after sitting on the counter for a few days, you probably have spotted the winged drosophila fruit fly.

This relatively new pest is the bane of fruit growers and is spreading. The small fly lays eggs on ripening fruits. The eggs hatch and the small maggots feed, causing the fruit to collapse and rot. Regular fruit flies, like those flying around your kitchen counter, lay eggs on fruits already breaking down. However, the spotted winged drosophila fruit fly has the ability to cut into the thick skins of unripe fruits to lay eggs. That's a problem.

While researchers and growers scramble to come up with solutions, we do know a few things home gardeners can do. Start by growing summer-bearing raspberries and early-maturing blueberries. The fruit fly population tends to swell during late summer and fall. Clean up and discard dropped and infested fruits. Prune blueberries to be more open and sunny. Fruit flies like cooler places to hide. Cover smaller plantings with a fine mesh netting to exclude the flies. Add mulch under plants with plastic to prevent the larvae from pupating on the ground near the plants. Harvest every few days and refrigerate the berries immediately to stop the eggs from hatching. The fruits are still edible.  A recent guide from Michigan State University offers more control ideas for organic growers.

Now for this week's tip: pick pick pick. Harvest beans, zucchini and cucumbers early and often. Not only will the fruits taste better and be more tender, you'll be able to stay on top of the harvest and not have a glut of veggies come August. Harvest beans before the bean pods swell, zucchini with the flowers still attached and cucumbers when they are big enough to eat.

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