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Homemade recipes to help control apple maggots and ants

Plus, Ted shares a letter from Alberta

man beside apple tree

A phrase taken from Isaiah 11:6 says, “and a little child shall lead them.” Most scripture scholars agree the passage containing those seven words has nothing to do with children teaching or leading adults. However, in our day-to-day living we’re never too old, nor too wise to know it all. We’re still learning from each other; regardless of age.

Got lots to share about apple maggot and ant controls, plus a letter from Alberta Grainews readers. As gardeners and farmers we stand on terra firma, (Latin) that is: solid earth; a firm footing. Before I meander any further along the garden path, let me tip my hat and extend welcome to all.

A letter leads the way

Thanks to Judy Allan from Edmonton who sent along three pages of a typed letter. I’ve condensed it down to save space.

“Hi Ted: My husband and I love your page in Grainews and never miss reading it. We appreciate all the gardening and other excellent suggestions you and readers give us. Some articles are just so informative and others just fun. We have two apple trees, one is a Parkland and the other a Norland; two Evans cherry trees that have lots of large, red semi-sweet cherries; a plum tree that is just amazing and a large grapevine covering about 20 feet on our backyard fence that produces 50 to 60 pounds a season of very good eating concord-like grapes.”

Judy continues: “We’ve had maggots the past two summers and treated both trees with commercial apple maggot traps with sticky-like glue and pheromone lures. This has not been very effective. This year we will use your apple maggot formula No. 1. We are desperate and my dear husband has threatened to cut down both trees if things don’t improve.

“I’m sharing an ant killer mixture we were given. Mix equal parts of icing sugar and baking soda, then add a small amount of water mixing as you go until you have a smooth, soft mixture that slides off the end of a teaspoon but stays together to form a small circle the size of a quarter or loonie. I put down some of this mixture here, there and everywhere. It seems to work best on hard surfaces like cement, cobblestone, sidewalk blocks, stepping stones, etc. I actually put it on the painted bottom board of our fence, behind the grapevine. Keep replacing it as it will harden up. Try it out Ted. It was super effective in our yard. I did not know that ants are more prevalent where there are aphids until you pointed it out in one of your articles. — Judy Allan.”

Ted’s response: Judy also asks about lime-water spray, so I’m providing some information about it a little further along. Apple maggot flies throw a one-two punch when it comes to causing damage. The first punch occurs when they lay eggs on the apples resulting in a weird, dimpled appearance on the outer skin. After the maggots hatch comes punch two. They tunnel into the flesh of apples causing a brownish breakdown with riddles and rot. The following should help Judy (hopefully her husband doesn’t have to cut down their apple trees) and others in preventing maggot tunnels. Eradication and control can be as high as 90 per cent; even higher.

Formula No. 1

Note: The three formulas that follow are NOT a spray. Here’s some preamble first. After mixing stated ingredients together, pour some of either 1, 2 or 3 into clean plastic bottles, to just below a one- or two-inch square hole cut out on one side about halfway up. Hang six or seven such containers in each apple tree after petals have dropped, starting about early to mid-July depending on weather, or once fruits are fairly large. By then maggot flies have emerged from soil, mate and begin laying eggs about 10 days later. Strain contents of each trap weekly to remove dead insects and other debris. Solution can be reused several times, but make fresh batches once it becomes smelly.

Mix one part blackstrap molasses diluted in some hot water so it pours easily into eight parts plain water and six parts white vinegar. Cooking molasses may be used in a pinch. An example of aforesaid would be:

  • 1 litre of molasses
  • 8 litres of water
  • 6 litres of white vinegar

Formula No. 2

Combine one part molasses and nine parts warm water to which some yeast cake or yeast granules have been added on top. Mix together once it stops working. Fill containers with this bait and hang in apple trees. Renew with a fresh batch as required.

Formula No. 3

This one is simplest and least expensive. Mix it outdoors. To each litre of water add 10 ml (2 teaspoons) of household ammonia and a bit of liquid soap OR soap powder (not laundry detergent). Make a fresh batch weekly.

Baited traps will attract and drown many adult maggot flies. Unfortunately, some beneficial insects may also be attracted and perish. Hang traps about 1.5 metres (5.0 feet) high mostly on sunny sides of apple trees.

Hot pepper oil concentrate

All you need is a glass mason jar that can be covered with a lid and some dried hot peppers to make a cold oil infusion. Wear disposable gloves to avoid burning skin on your hands and protective eye goggles. Slice open a dozen and a half dried hot chili peppers. Some of the seeds should be exposed as they contain the hottest part. Place prepared hot dried peppers inside the jar and add one cup of olive oil or canola oil. Cover with a lid but not tightly shut.

If you notice any peppers or seeds floating to the top or are exposed to the air, add a little more oil if needed or invert the jar a few times. Pepper parts floating to the top can take on mould and you don’t want that, in which case discard and start with a fresh batch.

Allow hot peppers to soak in oil for two or three days, then it’s ready to use. Straining off the oil (or not) and discarding the peppers is your choice. The longer peppers remain in oil without straining, the more potent it becomes.

Label the jar contents as “Hot Pepper Oil Concentrate” and store high up, out of reach of children to avoid a mishap, as it will burn. You can usually also buy prepared hot pepper oil at stores specializing in Italian and European ethnic foods and at some health food stores.

Hot pepper spray – prep and application

Not all hot peppers are equal in strength. Some are far more potent than others. With that in mind some personal experimentation will be required to avoid burning anything that’s sprayed. You may need to use a little less concentrate or a little more when preparing a spray.

Add 1/4 cup homemade hot pepper concentrate to each clean 4-litre jug of water and stir in 1 tablespoon of liquid or powdered soap (not detergent). You can also add 2 tablespoons of baking soda, or leave it out. It’s optional.

Be sure to wear protective clothing, rubber gloves and eye protection when spraying apple trees, as it can easily drift back onto your face and skin in the slightest breeze. As soon as it thaws in early spring, moisten soil in a circle around base of each apple tree with pepper spray for a distance of five feet from each tree trunk to stop emerging pests, especially maggot flies. When spraying trees, early morning or later in the day when temp. remains under 25 C is best time to avoid risk of burning anything. Cover all areas of the tree including trunk, branches, tops and undersides of leaves and forming fruit every seven to 10 days. As well, reapply this spray after rainfall or following heavy dew. This spray is non-judgmental and kills both harmful insects and any beneficials that may be attracted. Use pepper spray selectively by applying it when bees are least active.

On another note

Be aware that hot peppers and microwaves don’t mix. Here’s the story of a person who placed hot peppers on a moistened towel to steam and soften them inside a microwave. It was set for one minute with disastrous results. What happened next?

Within seconds the smell of hot pepper filled the kitchen with an overpowering odour; a form of unintentional hot pepper scent had permeated throughout. By the time said person got to the microwave, the entire kitchen had taken on a lingering hot pepper scent. With burning eyes and breath held; the individual opened all windows and doors to air out the house and then evacuated the premises until the air was tolerable again. It took over two hours to refresh and clear the house so the air was acceptable.

Lime juice is an organic pesticide

Create a mixture of 1/4 to 1/2 cup lime juice with 4 litres of water and spray the solution on plants where bug infestations are prominent. This homemade spray serves as an irritant to destroy and keep away mites, aphids, sawfly worms and other smaller insects. One word of caution about lime solution when overused. It may alter pH levels (neutral acid-alkaline balance) in soil. Some plants may like it; others will find it disagreeable.

Stirring a few drops of mild liquid soap into the lime juice-water makes it even more potent. Remember you are experimenting when using any homemade formula for the first time and adjustments may be necessary such as hosing off plants with plain water an hour after applying lime-water solution. Do it early in the morning and only on plants infected with unwanted pests; otherwise beneficial insects are also harmed. Keep in mind — the majority of bugs is neither bad nor harmful.

About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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