How to protect against apple maggots
I am not one to recommend alternatives to chemical spraying for the
control of pests. I do strongly agree on limiting spraying as much as
possible, and as it happens, last year I did not have to spray my 100+
rose plants for aphids or similar insects whatsoever.
Fruit trees are another story. I do not grow them, but over the decades
have had contact with hundreds of gardeners who do, and literally none is
able to grow them for fruit without at least some spraying. Obviously it’s
now too late if you didn’t get an application of “dormant spray” on
your trees. However, if you would like to try an experiment with a
non-spray protective technique for an apple tree or trees, I can give you
an idea that was developed by an old friend, I. B. Lucas, a way back in
the early 1960s, and which I believe to be equally applicable now.
The following quote is from an article Mr. Lucas wrote, which with minor
editorial changes, appeared in several national publications in Canada and
the U.S.A. including The New York Times Sunday Edition of May 15, 1966.
“Four years ago [in 1962], in spite of using insecticides, my ‘Delicious’
apples were so badly infested with apple maggot that I buried the entire
crop. Unless a solution could be found, I knew the trees would have to go.
“The following spring  I tried an experiment. It succeeded. There
was not a blemish on a single apple and no insecticides were used. My new
method eliminated at least nine-tenths of the work of spraying, yet the
fruit was protected from its worst enemy, the apple maggot fly.
“In the six succeeding years the apple crop was equally flawless. As a
check, I left one apple unprotected; it was riddled with apple maggot.
“The new method seems almost embarrassingly simple--but not so simple or
obvious that anyone had ever tried it before. Basically, each apple is
shielded by plastic, enclosed in a tube of polyethylene from its early
stage of growth until harvest.
“Size and Shape. The polyethylene is one mil thick. Each tube is
approximately four inches long and two inches in diameter. (A thousand
tubes cost a few dollars.)
“When the apple is the size of a walnut, a tube is slipped over it. The
top of the tube is stapled around the stem of the apple, as shown in the
drawing. This closes it just enough to keep it from slipping off the
apple. The bottom opening is left wide open. In my area, near Toronto,
trees bloom the last week in May, and the apples are bagged three or four
weeks after that date.
“As the apple develops, it fills and then expands the tube. Eventually,
the polyethylene film forms a cob-web-thin skin over the entire apple
except for small but vital ‘breathing’ areas at the top and bottom.
This method may sound laborious, but with a little practice the grower
should need only about three hours to slip and staple bags around enough
walnut-sized apples to fill two to four bushels at harvest time.
“Effectiveness Questioned. Every grower to whom I mentioned this
method dismissed it as worthless. What, they asked, would prevent the
apple maggot fly from attacking the apple through the two open ends of the
“Having spent a good part of the last 40 years on my hands and knees in
the undergrowth, working with my miniature fruit trees, I had become well
acquainted with the habits of the apple maggot fly. My method was based on
this knowledge. The apple maggot fly is not an explorer. If the object it
lands on is not suitable, it will fly away immediately. This is what
happens when the pest lands on the plastic ‘skin’ of the apple.
“But what about the long list of other apple enemies--pests and disease,
including scab? If my six consecutive years of flawless apple crops mean
anything, the bagging method has solved these other problems just as
decisively with one exception: the codling moth. The moth lays its eggs
immediately following petal fall (or the calyx stage), so the codling moth
must be controlled before the bagging method can be effective. A single
dusting with a sulphur and lead arsenate dust should give complete
protection. A bellows duster is adequate for the ten-foot-high dwarf trees
in my garden, and the operation takes less than two minutes a tree.”
[Note, lead arsenate no longer being available, my recommendation would be
a dusting with Gardal Fruit Tree and Garden Spray or Dust. This was
formerly a product in the Green Cross line, and has recently been taken
over by King Home & Garden, and generally available from Home Hardware
stores, or if it is not, it can be ordered by your local store from the
Home Hardware warehouse.]
“In my garden, ‘Astrachian’ and ‘Yellow Transparent’, both of
which have culinary and dessert qualities and ripen in August, are
trouble-free without insecticides or fungicides. My choice for a
winter-storage apple is ‘Red Delicious’; as I have already indicated,
this variety must be bagged.
“In some seasons it may be necessary to apply dust to protect apple
foliage and the small, not-yet-bagged apples from scab. A few applications
of sulphur dust will do the job. However, the three apple varieties
mentioned--‘Astrachian’, ‘Yellow Transparent’ and ‘Delicious’--are
almost immune to scab in my garden.
“Thinning. The annual June drop is nature’s way of eliminating
poorly developed or surplus apples. This, however, is seldom enough. The
gardener should make sure that there is a space of from 13-25 cm (5-10”)
between apples, depending on whether average size or large size fruits are
wanted. The old hand thins the fruit about twice as drastically as the
novice. He is influenced partly by his preference for quality over
quantity and partly by the fact that even moderate overbearing reduces the
tree’s resistance to everything from diseases and insects to winterkill.
“In conclusion I have, during my 40 years of crusading for dwarf fruit
trees, left unsaid some things which I ought to have said and have no
doubt said some things which I ought not to have said, but, casting
humility to the winds, I now predict that so long as the female apple
maggot fly continues in her present robust and well nigh indestructible
state of health, her presence in home orchards of the future will be
proclaimed by hundreds of little polyethylene sleeves gaily fluttering in
the June breeze.”
ffolkes sketch of I.B. Lucas dates from the mid 1960s and
illustrates I.B.'s travels. It's actually a very good likeness as I
remember him in the mid 70s."
author, I. B. Lucas, an accomplished lawyer whose father was a former
Attorney General of Ontario, was an avid amateur gardener who obviously
liked to experiment. In the 1930s he began experimenting with over a
thousand dwarf fruit trees, and soon became a strong advocate of them for
amateur gardeners. He died in 1988 at the age of 91. His son Stewart still
lives in I. B.’s Markdale, Ontario house where his orchard was located.
© Art C. Drysdale