End-of-summer pestilence

It seems to happen in late summer, yearly: an infestation of fruit flies. It’s just a fact of life. I usually just use my homemade traps and I’ve gotten rid of them in short order.

I was (as always) glad to know that I’m not alone with this end-of-summer event, but surprised to see a test on the effectiveness of homemade traps. Even though I’m pretty satisfied with my method, curious minds must investigate the possibility that someone has built a better (mouse) trap.

From Kitchn (one of my favorites) comes a test of various do-it-yourself traps. What surprised me was which one was more effective.

Frankly, I’ve been lazy and simply put out the cider vinegar mix in any small container even without the funnel or the lid with hold punched in the top and it still works, and add to that, for only once a year I don’t want lids with holes poked around the kitchen! In my simple open-container method (yes, lazy) the dish soap seems to really help advance the mass slaughter.

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A pestilence of ants

Perhaps pestilence is a bit too strong a term, since I’m not literally dealing with plague, but I’m frustrated.

I’m not used to seeing insects strolling about my kitchen, but lately I keep seeing those little tiny brown or black ants that are called “sweet-eating” or “sugar” ants. I’ve had them invade before–you know, the moving black line, marching steadily toward something. . . .

But these aren’t in a column, a cluster, or even a group! If they were in a marching column, I could see where they are coming from, and where they were going. them. I could attack them effectively with traps or spray. If I knew where they were coming from, I’d sprinkle cinnamon or lay cinnamon sticks out.

Well, these aren’t marching purposefully toward anything. They aren’t even marching–they’re meandering. They aren’t obviously coming from anywhere. http://antark.net/They act as if they were on a Sunday afternoon stroll–not exactly wandering–each individual seems to know where it is going but with no particular destination all,  just one or two at a time, and in various directions, nothing consistent. The little b-….er, beasties are just there and they have been for weeks. Only a few at a time–just continually there.

If there were hordes, masses of them streaming across the counter, I wouldn’t really be surprised. Since the bees arrived,  I’ve been mixing sugar syrup to feed them.  I’ve had more sugar in my kitchen in the last three weeks than I’ve probably had in the whole rest of my life.  Until the bees arrived (and needed feeding  until the fall nectar flow really gets going), I bought sugar by the one-pound boxes since I couldn’t get anything smaller.  Now I’m bringing it in four-pound bags–several at a time, and mixing simple syrup by the gallon. So–I’d expect “sugar” ants. I could deal with the massive march that had an origin and a destination.

But that is not what seems to be happening here. They are not even walking purposefully–they’re just promenading ants!

Kitchen pestilence

If you have never had anything with more than four legs in your kitchen, or you’re totally frantic when you encounter something with six legs, you probably should stop reading here, because this kitchen pest has six legs, and is undoubtedly one of the peskiest thing to invade the kitchen or the rest of the house.

I’m not talking about palmetto bugs, nor weevil, or things that get into the dried staples in the pantry!  I can avoid those by using the glass canning jars for storage. Spiders? Nope, those have eight legs, and besides they are good pest control. I’m talking about something that seems to invade my kitchen (and if I’m not prompt to eradicate them, the spread through the house).   If you’ve ever had them you’ve probably already guessed what they are! Those little gnat-like things called fruit flies!

They go by several other names: vinegar flies, bar flies, common fruit fly, and I’ve even heard drain flies (since they breed there)–members of the family Drosophilidae. Wikipedia says that they are “nuisance flies” rather than pests. In a strict horticultural sense that is true, but they certainly are pesky if they invade your home. They are attracted to wine, vinegar, any fermenting fruit or vegetable. In the summer when the kitchen is replete with fruits, and vegetables, like tomatoes (which should not be refrigerated), it’s easy to have a little spot of fermentation sneak up on you–and then, there are the fruit flies or Drosophila.  Just so you know what they look like, here is an image from Wikipedia.

When they appear in your kitchen, it’s usually a sign that there is something “rotten” around–or at least fermenting.  If you’re making vinegar (I do make my own), or have open wine they’ll show up–maybe through poorly screened windows or doors, or they may be carried into your home on fruit or vegetables…and they breed–like, well, like flies!  Some Drosophila species can infest thin-skinned fruit and berries.  There are lots of ways for them to find a way into your kitchen.

fruit fly (Drosophila sp.)
Drosophila sp.

The immediate question is now how to get rid of them.  Obviously the first step is to get rid of whatever attracted them.  Maybe that’s enough, but if they keep appearing around the kitchen or house, more drastic things may be needed.

They can breed in all sorts of places around the kitchen.  In drains, garbage disposals, even where there is un-noticed spilled fruit juice.  They will breed in trash cans, or unwashed recycling.  They lay eggs on the surface of fruit or vegetables if there is an area of fermentation.  Then those eggs hatch into larvae–yes, little white, wiggle, icky things, and you’ll soon have more, and more, and more….

It’s essential to eliminate all the breeding place (e.g. drains)–some which are not obvious.  The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has a fact sheet, which covers some of the places where they may breed, and methods for getting rid of an infestation.

I don’t want to use even a “kitchen pesticide” around the cat or around the kitchen.  You can go to the hardware store or garden store and spend $7 or $8 for a cute little trap that is shaped like an apple or some other ambiguous fruit, but you can also make you own quite easily: The fact sheet describes how to do this.  My experience has been that cider vinegar, wine, or wine vinegar is much more effective at luring them into the trap–in my case, a bottle with a funnel set on top, instead of a paper cone/funnel.  If the infestation is severe, you might even resort to “fly strips” to help eradicate them.

I’d hope never to need any of this information, but I usually have to deal with at least one infestation in late summer and fall when there’s lots of fruit around–I hope you don’t, but if you do, maybe this will help.