Spring: Codling Moths and Other Orchard Pests

green apples

I received a Listener Question this morning. With the warmer weather, it’s time to get busy in the orchard again!

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Hi Erin,

If you have a spray you use on your apples trees in the spring, please let me know as I will need to spray in the next week or two.  I have a huge tree that gives tons of apples every year but the coddling moth ruins them.  I want to spray them with something that is not unhealthy for my boy and I to eat. 

Thanks so much and my best to you and your family!!

 

Have a great day! 

Dan

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Organic Pest control can be confusing — and is potentially time-consuming depending on which methods you employ. But I really like the approach my Amish neighbors take about their farming and their work. They choose to see it as a privilege! And something pleasant at that.  They (and I) feel that being a good steward of the earth is its own reward. The satisfaction, serenity, and pleasure that comes in each act of caring for your plants and animals is refreshing when looked at, not as a “chore-that-must-be-done,” but as a chance to relax and enjoy nature. It’s all in the attitude you take as you approach the job at hand. Our experience is shaped only 10% what happens to us, but 90% by our attitude toward it! 

There are several effective ways of controlling insect damage in your orchard. Use one or more of them according to what you fancy, can afford or have the patience for, and what you find works the best in your own orchard. Codling moths can be difficult to manage, especially when the population has been allowed to build up over a season or two (or more). It’s definitely better to keep populations low from the outset if you have the opportunity.

The good news is — Codling Moth, Plum Curculio and Apple Maggot can be almost 100% eliminated by bagging your pears and apples, or by using a bagging and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination.  You can monitor the codling moths with sticky pheromone traps to know when when it’s time to bag the fruit, but in general, it should be done no later than four to six weeks after bloom when the fruit are between 1/2–1 inch in diameter. Later blooming fruits can be attacked by Codling Moth before they reach that size, and in general, later-blooming fruit is more susceptible to Codling Moth damage in general.  Also know that the larvae affect walnuts as well as pears and apples, so all must be treated to reduce the population of the codling moths.

What exactly is “bagging” and how do you do it? Bagging is simply putting the young fruit inside a bag and closing the bag to keep the codling moths off and out of the fruit. Some orchardists have good luck using nylon fruit socks to bag their fruit, but nylon does not seem to have consistently high results when using nylon alone as it does when using small paper sacks or using nylon in combination with “Surround“. Surround is one brand of kaolin clay that you mix with water and soak the nylon fruit socks/bags in. The combination is reported by the Home Orchard Society to be nearly as effective as using paper bags.

I suggest googling “bulk paper bags” and looking for a good price on how many you might think you’ll need. Here‘s just one example of 1000 #6 bags for $27.00.

You can take care of both thinning your fruit and bagging at the same time. After the “June drop” (when some of the small fruits fall off the tree), when your fruit has reached 1/2-inch in diameter, head out with a large supply of nylon fruit socks or with small paper bags, a stapler, and plenty of staples. To begin, pluck off all but the largest of the fruits in each cluster – usually it is the center fruit and it is called the “King fruit” because it is the largest. Now slide the fruit inside your nylon fruit sock or insert that small fruit into your paper sack, fold over the top and staple it shut, taking care to leave no open spaces for the codling moths to get inside the bag. So now you have one bagged fruit left instead of a cluster of unbagged fruits. Don’t worry, that one fruit will grow larger than it would have if you hadn’t thinned the fruit in that cluster since more energy will go into growing and ripening that one fruit. And of course, it is only one fruit to bag instead of five or six.

When your apples or pears are 1/2″ or slightly larger, thin them to just one per cluster and bag the remaining one fruit. Photo courtesy of rocketjim54 via everystockphoto.com

If you are using a “nylon sock/bag” and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination, you’ll want to soak all your nylon bags in a bucket of water mixed with the Surround and allow them to dry before bagging your fruit. Here are some detailed instructions by the folks who first promoted this method.

The bag on each fruit acts as a physical barrier to keep the codling moth off of the fruit. You remove the bags at harvest time. Do note that red apples won’t get as red without the sun directly on them. This is one reason some people prefer the nylon fruit bags, as the nylon allows some amount sun directly on the fruit. You can always use slider-type sandwich baggies as well, in order to let sunlight reach the apples, but you must snip off the bottom two corners to allow moisture to drip out of the bag. I haven’t seen the plastic baggies in use nearly as much as paper or nylon. If you have a heavy infestation, though, I would be inclined to use paper bags for several years until the codling moth population has been decimated.

Other methods of control involve interrupting the life cycle of the moth. You can use codling moth traps with pheromone lures to catch and kill male moths before they mate.  Set the traps out at the start of the bloom period, in the top third of the tree. Use 1-2 for small trees and 2-4 for larger trees. This method alone is not sufficient to protect against heavy infestations. It will, however, reduce the number of affected fruits when used alone. However, it is a great way to monitor the numbers of codling moths present, especially over the course of several seasons to help you see if your other control measures are effectively reducing the population, and may be sufficient control alone when codling moth numbers are minimal. We use traps solely to monitor populations at Aspendale Farm and not as a preventive.

Through the growing season, you should monitor fruits for entry holes and discard all affected fruits. In fall, you can wrap a sticky band around the trunk (coated with tangletrap) to catch the larvae as they make their way down the tree to pupate over winter in order to reduce numbers.  On smooth-barked trees, some have found it effective to wrap a band of corrugated cardboard around the trunk to catch the mature larvae as they seek a place to pupate, discarding and replacing the cardboard regularly to eliminate the larvae that do find their way inside to pupate. Banding with cardboard is not effective with rough-barked trees, and will not eliminate a sufficiently large number of codling moths to be used as the sole method of control. Use it in conjunction with other methods.

In addition, encourage woodpeckers to hang out in your orchard by providing them with suet.  They relish the tasty insects that destroy your orchard fruits and will help control the populations. Why not give them a treat! Hand-picking can take care of other orchard pests like tent caterpillars or leaf rollers. Walk through your orchard at least once a week, twice is better. Be on the lookout for signs of insects and remove them immediately, taking other precautionary measures immediately as needed.

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