Fruit Flies

fruit fliesOften no larger than the size of a pin, fruit flies can be one great big nuisance! While there are few sights more appealing than that of a bowl of home-grown organic produce on a kitchen counter or dining table, to see that same picture interrupted with a halo of buzzing insects feeding on your hard work will ruin anyone’s appetite. Yuck!

Thankfully, these pests are typically brought on by a few bad habits of our own doing. Most common in the summer and fall months, we usually find fruit flies anywhere we have left out produce. Indoors or outside in the garden, be they scraps we intend to compost or whole fruits and vegetables we have put out to ripen, the scent will attract fruit flies and they will begin making a meal. However, with a bit of research and trial and error, we have discovered a few tricks for reducing our fruit fly population on the farm. We hope our experiences are useful for you as well! By breaking just a handful of poor habits and taking a few precautionary measures, you should be able to begin ridding your home and garden of fruit flies.

Need to know…

  • Located indoors and outdoors
  • Most active in summer and late fall
  • Especially in kitchen areas or anywhere near produce
  • Also known as “vinegar flies”

Dealing with a Fruit Fly Problem

One incredibly common way that fruit flies are introduced into the home or garden is through contamination via grocery store or similar produce. It is very common when you purchase produce at most grocery stores for it to contain an extra free gift of a fruit fly or ten. If you happen to plant this produce (like regrowing a green onion, for example) you will inevitably have a crop with fruit flies from the start. Even if you do not plant the store-bought fruit or vegetable, bringing a contaminated food item home means that the bug(s) are now in your home as well. We highly recommend purchasing all produce from a reputable local market, co-op or farmer, directly. Even so, just like anything else, all food should be inspected to ensure quality each time new produce is purchased.

Fruit flies range from one- to three-sixteenths of an inch in length. They have tan or yellow heads and dark to black bodies. Fruit flies also have very short natural life spans. They breed in moist, dark places in damp, decaying matter. They have been known to breed in a wide variety of places. Due to this, total removal can be very difficult if they are allowed to become established. On the other hand, if you deny fruit flies a place to breed, they will quickly die out.

Only organic methods of pest control – never pesticides – are recommended for fruit fly management. Due to their close proximity to food, and the life cycle of the fruit fly, pesticides have great potential to negatively affect residents of the home and neighborhood. Therefore, they are not likely to be effective at eradicating the bug.

Fruit flies favor nearly all produce, especially ripening bananas and tomatoes, all greens, discarded citrus peels and rinds, and other fruits and vegetables we may leave sitting on counters or out for compost. We should keep flies in mind whenever we are preparing compost, ripening produce, or even displaying the fruits of our labor, or taking out the garbage. We never want to leave food or kitchen scraps in a place where insects or other animals could potentially access them. Getting in the habit of thinking about this whenever you go through your regular routine will greatly reduce any larger problems you may otherwise come to experience.

Types of Problems Caused:

  • Fruit flies will eat produce
  • Often introduced through contaminated produce purchased at the store
  • Try to purchase locally from a farmer’s market or co-op for the best chance of uncontaminated produce
  • All produce should still be checked before purchased and brought into the home and especially before planting/regrowing
  • Flies reproduce in moist, decaying matter. Keep the area clean to avoid the establishment of flies; after established, they are very difficult to eradicate.
  • Materials used for breeding include compost buckets, tile grout, washcloths, garbage cans, etc.
  • If not allowed to breed, lifespan is very short and flies will not last.

Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

One of the primary concerns when discussing the fruit fly is “What do I do if they are already established?” Fruit flies lay up to 2000 eggs at one time. Therefore, once a fruit fly population has decided to call your kitchen or garden “home”, you may have quite a few visitors to deal with. Unfortunately, as these flies are also known as “filth flies”, every single one of them could be spreading contamination around your home.

Refrigerate Produce and Compost Scraps

To begin, you will want to refrigerate all produce. This will effectively deny the flies access to the foods they love. Additionally, the flies are likely living in or under your sink, on your mop, and in other similarly damp places. But moving all produce inside your refrigerator will save it from becoming a feast for the flies, at least for the time being. If you have noticed that the flies have already begun attacking any produce, throw it away.

If you are composting (as you should be), consider using a composting crock, which is a container with a sealed lid that that stands next to where you prepare your food in the kitchen. Whenever you’re cooking, you can put your scraps for compost in the crock, and they’ll be protected from any contamination. This is one excellent way to continue composting while fighting the fruit flies.

If you are not currently composting (and why not?), and your garbage scraps contain banana peels or citrus rinds – both of which are especially tasty to fruit flies – consider placing just these items in a sandwich bag or reusable container and freezing them until it is garbage day. This will reduce the ap-peel of your trash immensely! And speaking of trash cans, upgrading to ones with tightly-fitting lids, along with keeping all trash cans and surrounding areas clean of debris, is an additional step that will help cut down on all kind of bugs, including fruit flies.

Keep Your Kitchen Clean

This tip may be a bit obvious, but thoroughly cleaning and drying all kitchen food preparation and work surfaces after cooking is an often overlooked step in the fight against fruit flies. Since flies require moisture for breeding, we need to remember to reduce the number of damp areas we provide. In addition, it may surprise you how far crumbs can travel! It is always a good idea to clean more thoroughly than you think you need to if you are trying to get rid of any type of insect. More than likely, there could be food somewhere you may have missed.

If you recycle, be sure to wash out all containers before placing in their respective recycling bins. Residual yogurt, soda, fruit juice, applesauce, pudding, and similar sticky, sweet treats are exactly what attracts fruit flies.

One of the ways fruit flies could be entering your home is via the sink’s drain. To check this, place a piece of plastic wrap over the drain overnight. In the morning check for flies. If you have found flies in your drain, you can clear the drain of organic matter by using an organic drain cleaner such as this enzymatic cleaner (affiliate link). Also maintain garbage disposal health by running the disposal frequently with a combination of baking soda and salt. Then, pour in an equal portion of white vinegar.

Using Scents to Repel Fruit Flies

Various scents attract or conversely repel fruit flies, including mint (attract), lavender (repel), basil (attract) and thyme (attract). The flies, of course, are also attracted to apple cider vinegar, beer and wine, and the reflection of plastic wrap. You can utilize this knowledge to set traps for the fruit flies.

A vinegar trap is made by pouring a small amount, about a half-inch, of apple cider vinegar (or beer or wine) into a small round jar. Once that’s ready, roll a half of a sheet of regular paper into a cone with a small opening at one end. Then, simply place the cone halfway down into the jar. The flies should be attracted by the fermentation smell of the liquid, fly down the cone into the jar, and then they cannot figure out how to fly back up the cone. A human can carry the jar outdoors to remove the cone and let the surviving flies free. The trick to this trap is that the cone must seal at the jar’s inner edge. By using a small amount of oil, it can help the seal.

Methods for Removal:

  • Refrigerate produce to protect from flies
  • Toss any that are already contaminated
  • Invest in a Compost Crock with an air-tight lid, for kitchen scraps
  • Freeze kitchen scraps that are not going to compost until ready for garbage day – do not leave in the trash can
  • Get a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid
  • Keep garbage can and area clean
  • Thoroughly clean and dry all surfaces after cooking or preparing food
  • Wash out any food containers for recycling
  • If you confirm that the flies are entering via sink drain (check using plastic wrap secured overnight), clear drain with enzymatic drain cleaner.
  • Don’t forget to maintain garbage disposal!
  • Baking Soda + Salt
  • Then add White Vinegar
  • Use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to make a few vinegar traps. Place these around indoor gardens, kitchens, sinks, pantries, anywhere where fruit flies have become or are becoming problematic.
  • A similar trap can be made with a bowl covered with a piece of plastic wrap with a hole poked into the middle. The reflections will attract the flies and they will fly into the bowl.
  • Add an enticing liquid-like (a very small amount of) ACV, beer or wine for scent.
  • Clove and Lavender have been shown to repel fruit flies. Simply add fresh cloves to a lemon and place in the fruit bowl with lavender springs (or diffuse essential oil if that’s easier) for a quick and pleasantly fragrant repellant.
  • Thyme, basil, and mint attract fruit flies.

We all know flies are disgusting, but the fact is, they are a part of every gardener’s – and chefs! – life. We practice all of the above advice. We keep as clean of a kitchen and food preparation areas as possible, we do not store produce outside of the refrigerator for lengths of time, we cover our (minimal) garbage, wash out our recycling, and seal our food scraps. But still, whenever the season is right and we have the most abundant produce and are working hardest in the kitchen, the fruit flies will come. The trick is to make sure they don’t linger. If you can manage that much and keep your sanity, you are doing ok by us. Sometimes, growing your own delicious food just means sharing it with a few darn flies.

Happy Gardening!