Discovering the Pests on our Apples

With two apple trees and a pear tree in our backyard, I see that pests are quite fond of these fruits. When looking at our apples and pears, spots show us that they have had visitors. Wanting to keep our property natural (without chemical sprays), these pests will likely come to visit every year. But who are they and what are they doing to our fruit?

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

The Coddling Moth leaves a dark chunk of fiber under the apple.

Today the West Madison Agricultural Research Station had their yearly open house which enabled me to learn more about our apple pests. One of the tents had a fruit intern with some examples of apples with pest markings. He talked about three common pests: the Coddling Moth, the Plum Curculio (beetle), and the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The inside of the apple visited by a Coddling Moth.

The Coddling Moth is what you might hear of as the typical apple worm. A moth lays her eggs on the fruit and when they hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit to eat the core of the apple. The apple tree will usually drop these fruits after sensing the internal damage. It’s a good idea to look for apples with the Coddling Moth marking while doing your early summer thinning and remove them first.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

A scab forms on the apple from a Plum Curculio.

The Plum Curculio is a beetle that lays its eggs under the skin of stone fruits. Yes, an apple is not a stone fruit, but this little pest doesn’t seem to realize that. As the apple grows, often the eggs are crushed by the growing fruit preventing baby beetles. A scab-like blotch forms on the apple and sometimes the apple is also flat or indented by that spot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

Spots are left behind by the Apple Fruit Maggot.

The Apple Fruit Maggot also lays it’s eggs inside the fruit. These maggots leave behind sting marks on the outside of the apple and brown railroad-like tracks inside the apple. An indentation is also often observed on the side of the apple.

So, what can be done about these pests?

If you want organic apples, the fruit intern noted that there is a clay that can be applied around the fruit, but it needs to be applied to each fruit often as it washes off in the rain and cracks as the apples grow. An easier solution on the Vegetable Gardener website is to tie brown paper lunch bags over the apples when they’re young. It sounds like there are also pheremone traps that can be purchased to catch some of the pests.

The fruit intern emphasized that although these pests cause cosmetic damage, these apples are still edible. It seems that nowadays most people are used to blemish-free grocery store apples and are quite disconnected from an understanding of their food sources. The most benign markings scare people away. But the fruit intern noted that these apples were just fine to eat. In fact, he planned to eat these unmarketable apples, every bite of them, after the open house was over.

Now that I know who the pests are that are visiting, I’m less afraid of what’s in our apples. But until I come to terms with eating worms, I think I might still compost the parts of the apple with spots and brown trails.

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