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How to prevent pumpkin fly damage on pumpkin & squash fruits

When you grow your own food you will quickly realise that every other insect and animal wants to eat your nutritious home-grown food. Being able to identify the kind of insect causing damage is the most important step in learning how to treat pests & diseases and when it comes to growing pumpkin and squash (summer & winter squash) the No.1 pest you will encounter in the garden is the pumpkin or fruit fly. 

There are a number of different types of pumpkin and fruit fly that originated from various parts of the world. They cause roughly the same amount of damage and are equally as tough to eradicate and treat. Here is South Africa there is an industry-owned program run by FruitFly Africa that rolls out fruit fly prevention and control programs.

What damage does fruit and pumpkin fly cause?


There is honestly nothing worse, when it comes to eating fruit and veg, than taking a bite and seeing the centre of the fruit or vegetable filled with tiny maggots, which are actually fruit/pumpkin fly larvae. The fruit/pumpkin fly ‘stings’ young fruits by laying their eggs just inside the surface of the fruit. Then, as the eggs hatch and the larvae start to emerge they start eating the inside of the fruit, working their way to the middle as they mature. Once they have eaten their way through the amount of fruit they need to reach full maturity, the pumpkin or fruit fly emerge as another generation of damaging flies. Due to the volume of eggs and larvae laid by a single fruit fly, numbers can increase exponentially if not correctly controlled.


How can you prevent fruit fly or pumpkin fly damage in the home garden?


1. The single most important thing you can do is to have a clean, hygienic garden space. By this I mean picking up rotten or fallen fruits and vegetables. You do not want anything that can harbour pumpkin fly eggs or larvae to sit on the soil and provide a breeding ground for the next generation. Bag and throw away all rotten, infected/stung fruit or fruit you, or the chickens, won’t be eating. For infected, or stung, fruit it is best to leave the bag with the fruit in outside in the sun for a day to kill off the eggs or larvae that may be present. 


2. Once you know you are not creating an environment for pumpkin or fruit flies to breed you need to start to control their numbers and the most effective way to do this, in an organic garden, is through the use of a pheramone-based trap. Traps like these are designed to catch female fruit or pumpkin flies, which are the flies that lay the eggs and cause the damage. Be cautious of there traps that claim to catch flies as they may not catch the correct ones, or the females. Once you have started to reduce the number of fruit flies in the garden you can move to a more preventative step to ensure you get harvests from your plants.


3. To increase your harvest and the likelihood of pumpkin and squash fruit reaching full maturity you need to protect them from any lingering pumpkin or fruit flies that are not being caught. Fruit Fly Traps and other techniques will never catch 100% of flies, which is why it is best to have preventative measures in place. These include bagging the fruits as soon as they are pollinated with organza bags and then changing from organza bags to unused stockings once the fruit is about to out-grow the organza bag. When using organza bags be sure to double bag them as the pumpkin/fruit fly stinger can get through the openings in an organza bag, but are not long enough to get through 2 layers. Once it is time to upgrade to the stocking make sure you either use a thick stocking or legging, otherwise, if using a thin stocking, be sure to also use 2 layers to prevent the stingers from being able to get through the preventative layer.


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