Killer bees in Texas! At least that was the premise of a 1978 movie called The Swarm. Unlike that old movie, no one was filming when swarms of wasps landed in our orchard this fall.
Last year, we had no fruit on our trees because of a spring frost. This year, our apple and pear trees made up for that loss and over-produced. Branches broke when storms whipped through. Even with the loss of limbs, we ended up with too much fruit. Of course, this sweetness was noticed by local wasps. As soon as the first ripe pear hit the ground, the swarms arrived.
Bob and I, family and friends, picked as fast as we could, but there was no way we could keep up with the harvest. The wasps gorged on the sweet, soft pears with a hum of activity.
It wasn't recommended to go out to our five-tree orchard on a warm afternoon. Then the wasps were most active. Our grandson, Seth, was first to get stung. Grandpa Bob was next. Our friend, Colette stayed a little too long, helping pick extra apples for me, and became another casualty.
Bob and I tried to work early mornings when it was cool and damp. Oh, the wasps were still there, just not so active. It was one of those early mornings, when we were trying to rake up fallen pears, that it felt like we were living in a B-movie where the wasps had taken over. They were everywhere! I expected to be stung at any minute while working but somehow I missed out on that fun. Lucky me.
Now all the pears and apples are down. The good ones are on our porch waiting to be processed. The mushy ones have been carted off and dumped in a far field. Now the swarm has changed. The wasps are gone, but they left a backup. Fruit flies have taken over.
They are little, but these pests are almost as annoying as the wasps. The only good thing about fruit flies is that they don't sting family or friends, but they do gross out some people.
We started out with just a few fruit flies in the kitchen. They just seemed to appear out of nowhere. Soon they attracted friends or maybe they made more family members, anyway, our swarm grew. This was especially true on the porch where the pears were quickly ripening and starting to rot.
Those buckets of fruit were just too much for us. Even working together, Bob and I could not keep ahead. We made apple sauce, apple/pear sauce, apple juice, apple/pear juice, apple crisp, and dehydrated pears.
Our favorite product is the dehydrated pears, or pear chips. We just slice them with skin and core into a bath of water and lemon juice and then put them in the dehydrator. It takes hours for the fruit to dry, but they are the best treat ever — pear chips are sweeter than apple chips.
Once, Bob brought a whole bucket of fruit into the kitchen. He hadn't noticed the swarm of fruit flies coming along for the ride. Our invasion quickly quadrupled! Time for fruit fly traps.
If you are battling fruit flies, too, there are basic traps that work (kind of). Put a sweet liquid in a cup with a drop of dishwashing soap. The liquid can be orange juice, apple cider vinegar, Mountain Dew, or even beer, anything that draws flies. The fruit flies go to take a drink, but can't take off again because the soap breaks the surface tension of the liquid and they drown.
You can also put the mixture into a quart jar, put a funnel, stem down, in the top, and then if the flies do go in, they can't find their way out again even if they don't drown. I suggest if you get some flies trapped that you put a piece of paper over the top before taking it outside to dump. You don't want to lose your captives before you are out the door.
I tried different sweet beverages in our traps and they all worked, sort of. Too bad the flies were multiplying faster, or Bob was bringing in more every day, or we had genetically smart fruit flies who knew it was a trap. The swarm got bigger.
Last night I took a different eradication tactic. I brought out the vacuum cleaner and whipped around the swarm with the hose. I got pretty many, too, but I had to sneak up on them before they would take flight. The battle continues, but I'm happy with my new weapon. Still the traps continue to be set. Oh, one more tip, I leave a light on at night to attract the fruit flies to my trap. Good luck.
Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com;www.susanmanzke.net; http://www.facebook.com/susan.manzke.