This post was updated just for you, Gentle, fruit-growing Reader, in August 2019. *curtsy*
We planted a small orchard on our place about ten years ago and were delighted when it started to produce fruit a few years ago. Our delight quickly turned to dismay, however, when–after a year or two–we discovered that much of the fruit was wormy! We found that most of the damage was the work of the common and infamous codling moth, admittedly a rather attractive moth but not one that you want to hang around your place.
Or befoul and completely ruin your hard-won orchard apples.
The codling moth (Cydia Pomonella) is a pest that is common all over the world, though it was native to Europe originally. The larva of the moth is the common apple worm or maggot, shown in the picture above. The little bugger will also attack pears, walnuts, and other tree fruits.
Spraying fruit trees with a chemical spray several times throughout the growing season is generally believed to be the only way to repel the insects that do so much damage to the fruit in our area. I actually bought some spray a few years ago, but I never could bring myself to use it. I try to stay away from chemical sprays whenever possible, and just reading the warnings on the back of the bottle scared me away from using it.
“HAZARDS TO HUMANS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS! Causes substantial but temporary eye injury. Causes skin irritation. Harmful if inhaled or swallowed. Do not get in eyes, on skin or on clothing. . . BEE CAUTION: MAY KILL HONEYBEES OR OTHER BEES. This product is very toxic to honeybees!”
Yikes! That’s not all. The warnings go on for some time, but that was enough for me to put the bottle of spray aside and think hard about whether I wanted to risk it or not. I never did pick it up again. (I love our honeybees!)
We spend quite a bit of time and energy trying to keep our honeybees healthy and to attract songbirds to our place: I wouldn’t want to do anything that would harm them or drive them away. And of course my beautiful chickens have the run of our place most of the time.
I have oodles of good reasons to avoid using chemical insect controls on our place. Oodles!!
However, it’s not much fun to eat wormy fruit. Happily–amazingly!!–a couple of years ago, I discovered a natural way to keep the nasty bugs away from my fruit that is very easy to do.
It’s very simple; it doesn’t cost much; it won’t hurt your songbirds, your children, your dog or your honeybees; and it has been very effective in my own orchard, even last year which was unusually hot and dry and buggy.
If you have fruit trees and are put off by the chemical spray route, and if the codling moth or other insects have made your fruit nearly impossible to enjoy, you may want to try this, too.
Here are the things you’ll need, for each tree you have:
- Gallon-size plastic jug (milk jugs are good, vinegar jugs–which are tougher–are even better)
- Sturdy twine or rope
- a sharp knife or sturdy pair of scissors
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 banana peels, cut in strips (I’ve substituted other fruit peels when we didn’t have bananas in the house, and they seemed to work just as well)
And here’s how you do it:
- Slice off a third of the top of the gallon jug (leave the handle intact) and punch a few holes along the top edge. Thread a 2′(ish) length of twine through handle and holes.
- Mix together the sugar and vinegar, and put into the jug. Add the banana strips.
- Add the water to the solution and stir vigorously.
- Hang the jug in your fruit tree.
- Check the jug every day or two for moths and replace with new solution when necessary. If you have codling moths in your area (and you probably do) when they are most active your solution will be positively full of dead moths. It’s pretty thrilling, really. If the jugs fill up with moths too quickly, I’ll double the recipe so I don’t have to change the solution so often. I have other things going on too, after all. 🙂
Three years ago when I hung these jugs in my orchard for the first time, I must have hit the timing just right, because the next day when I went out to check on the jugs, every single one was so full of dead moths that I couldn’t even see the solution. I delightedly dumped them all into the compost pile and refilled them with new solution. I had to do this a few times during the first week or two, but my apples that year were nearly free of moth damage and worms.
It took just a little bit of time and attention, but the rewards were huge!
Having all those lovely apples was even more thrilling than finding all the dead moths in the traps!
How lucky we are that the Cydia Pomonella doesn’t know the back stroke.
If you want to try this for yourself, it’s important to get those jugs full of solution into your fruit trees before they bloom, or at least as the blooms are opening, as that’s when the codling moth seems to begin laying eggs. What happens is that the moth is attracted to the vinegar-sugar solution with the fruit peels, and then drowns in it, thus not laying its eggs on the leaves and blossoms of the fruit tree.
By the way. I just bought this book and am currently–wide-eyed–working my way through it. I highly, highly recommend it to you if you are growing an orchard and care about doing it right. It’s an awesome book.
We installed the jugs in our orchard trees this week, and I’m checking them every day or two for moths. My trees are blossoming beautifully this spring, so I’m looking forward to lots of delicious, chemical-free fruit this summer!
So now, Gentle Reader, if you have fruit trees and have been perplexed by the damage of coddling moths or other baffling insects in the past . . . well. . . . now you know what to do!
And if you’d do me and your friends the favor of sharing this post with them, we’d all be in debt to you–because–who doesn’t want better fruit from their fruit trees? (And thank you!)
- What’s going on
- Watching the sunset with Anya