The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

This is about apples. While explaining what I’m going to explain here to a lady in church last Sunday, it dawned on me that I haven’t put this in writing. I’ve written lots of stuff about the forty-plus years I’ve spend killing apple trees, and-or watching them expire of natural causes. But maybe never this.

She—the lady in church—in the middle of a general discussion about apple trees, mentioned “those little brown tracks inside apples.” As she mentioned them, I realized that she didn’t know what they were, or why they were there. 

Those tracks are left by the number one pest—which is really the only real pest we have here for apples—that apple growers around here fight with. Sure, there are mold and fungus and other various and unusual diseases that can affect apple trees, but they have an enemy too. 

That enemy is our winter, which, unless warming continues, prevents a lot of these things from if not surviving, at least not becoming as big a problem as is the apple maggot fly.

That’s why, when you see that brown line running through the middle of your apple, you know you have them, them being the apple maggot fly. Here’s how it works: First, some apples that have had eggs laid in them by the AMF fall on the ground, and lie there, waiting for winter. Then the eggs, which have by now hatched into tiny worms that burrow around inside the apple, leaving that brown track behind them, realize that winter is coming, and they’re going to freeze.

Well, for Pete’s sakes, how do they know that!?! There are people around here who don’t even know that. I don’t know how they know that if they don’t leave the apple and burrow down into the ground far enough so they don’t freeze to death, they won’t make it. But they do know, and so they dig in.

Next, summer comes, the ground warms up, the worm warms up, gets up far enough to finish its transformation into the apple maggot fly, and the whole cycle starts again, because as soon as the fly sees a red apple, it lays more eggs, and the whole cycle begins all over again.

Now, I confess, the actual details on this transformation process weren’t explained really well, or maybe even exactly accurately, but in general, this is what happens.

Do you live in town? Or within a mile or so of someone who has an apple tree? Chances are that’s where your fly is going to come from,  given that you’ve never left even a single apple lie on the ground going into winter.

But here’s the good news: The AMF isn’t very smart. If it sees something red, it will try to lay eggs on it. So here’s what I do, and what you can do. Go out and buy the red plastic balls that come with hanger rods and ties—Tom at Grass Roots Nursery on Rush Lake carries them; maybe other nurseries around the area do too—and hang them in your tree. One or two for each. Then, coat those red plastic balls with some goop called “Tangletrap,” which is some evil sticky stuff that will catch and hold the AMF when it lands on the red ball.

This is messy, and this goop is almost impossible to remove for the next season, so here’s what I do: Pull a sandwich-sized baggie over the red ball, and fasten with a twist tie. Then coat the bag, which you can strip off the next summer. The AMF isn’t real smart, and still likes the red ball underneath the bag.

I haven’t tried it, but you could maybe even paint a pop can red and use it. If you try it and it works, which you’ll know pretty soon because there’ll be some smallish-sized flies caught there, let me know.

Oh, I hang the balls as soon as the apples are about marble size. Some trees don’t have apples, so I don’t hang them in those. Good luck.