13 - 2009

Cherries, Pie and A Worm Or Two Dozen

Yum! At long last, after several years, our cherry tree has grown big enough to grow a real batch of cherries. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to bake up a beautiful pie — and I got an extra job of figuring out what to do about the worms in some of the cherries.

After doing some research, I learned that these aren’t actual worms. No, not to worry — they are grubs. You know, maggots.

That is, they are larvae of the western cherry fruit fly, which is out there — probably at this very minute — laying eggs in our ripening cherries. Oh yes, I’ve seen ’em, I just didn’t know what they were.

We are certainly not the only ones with this problem. In fact, if you Google “worms in cherries,” you will find many amusing anecdotes of people gobbling up delicious cherries, only to later learn about the worms.

Fortunately, I pitted all my cherries first and removed all as many as possible of the worms. Then, of course, I cooked the cherries in boiling hot sugar syrup. Then the pie baked in the oven. Therefore, I am convinced that any remaining worms are thoroughly sterilized and will simply add protein to our dessert. I informed my family about the situation as we tucked into the pie. Mr. Cheap took a deep breath, looked at me and said, “Well, you’re eating it …”

Mlle. Cheap didn’t even flinch, but she has been known to wander the house singing a song with the lyrics, “I love pie,” so she isn’t choosy. Also, she is a huge fan of Bizarre Foods, and Andrew Zimmern eats *live* bugs all the time.

Bugs in processed food

As you can imagine, homegrown food isn’t the only place you might find insects in your food. The government has specific standards for how much “animal byproduct,” such as insects and rodent hairs, can be in food products. In fact, according to a recent article,

Think insect parts and rodent hairs are more of a rarity? Think again. An Ohio University fact sheet estimates that we eat from one to two pounds of insects each year, and without knowing it.

These special features are a good thing, in a way:

“They’re actually pretty healthy,” says Dr. Philip Nixon, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, in regard to insects, “If we were more willing to accept certain defect levels such as insects and insect parts, growers could reduce pesticide usage. Some of the spraying that goes on is directly related to the aesthetics of our food.”

What can you do?

The advice on the Web about avoiding worms in your cherries is pretty consistent: Spray.

We really want to keep our garden completely organic, for ourselves and our dog (who prowls around, munching at the edges or at the actual crops), as well as for the many birds and other creatures that frequent the yard. Birds are especially susceptible to pesticide because they are so small. Audubon estimates that 7 million wild birds are killed each year by pesticides used by homeowners for aesthetic purposes (a pretty lawn).

A cover is available that keeps bugs out of trees, but the video on the Web site makes it look like quite an ordeal to install, taking almost 10 minutes for four adults.

The issues surrounding spraying for pests are complicated. There are some organic alternatives, but they really aren’t great. Yet home growers have an obligation to help control fruit flies so to support commercial growers in the area using lower levels of pesticides. Options include:

  • Insecticides that kill the fruit flies.
  • Traps that capture the fruit flies — but these are really only for monitoring whether you have Western cherry fruit flies, not removing the population.
  • Good sanitation that removes all affected fruit and destroys it (you can still compost the fruit, one article says, if you quarantine it in a black plastic sealed bag for a while so that the larvae are killed before putting it in the compost).
  • Laying down ground cover so that the larvae cannot burrow into the ground and overwinter there.
  • Encouraging chickens (and rodents, apparently) to eat the larvae.

We will probably go with the last four options. We have been thinking about getting chickens anyway, and this is yet another reason to think about it. Apparently, worms also affect apples, and we have four apple trees growing now that might start fruiting next year. We had already planned to make a chicken run area beneath the apple trees, and apparently the cherry needs one, too!

What am I missing?

Do you have any secret tips for getting rid of fruit-eating worms? Share them — or just your sympathies — here.

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