Oriental fruit fly affects local gardeners, Soil Born Farms
This is the little pest that causes big damage: the Oriental fruit fly.
Courtesy California Department of Food and Agriculture
Sacramento County is prepared for the long haul in its fight against the Oriental fruit fly (OFF). And that means a 106-square-mile chunk of the county will be under quarantine until June 2024.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Sacramento County quarantine centers on Rancho Cordova, where some of the invasive insects were found last month.
The area is “bordered on the north by Madison Avenue in the community of Foothill Farms; on the south by Elder Creek Road; on the west by 28th Street in Sacramento; and on the east by Douglas Road near Sunrise Boulevard,” says CDFA.
Besides Rancho Cordova, parts of Carmichael, Fair Oaks, East Sacramento and South Sacramento are part of the OFF zone. The full map, and a text description of the borders, are linked on this page. (Scroll down to find the Sacramento County listings.) Similar quarantines are in effect in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Sacramento’s quarantine went into effect Sept. 22, two days after the last OFF was caught in the Rancho Cordova area, says Sacramento County Agriculture Commissioner Chrisandra Flores.
Traps have been set up in fruit trees throughout the area. For the quarantine to be effective, residents have to resist moving their backyard produce to places outside the zone.
“We ask that all fruit and vegetables grown within the quarantine area be consumed or processed (such as juiced, frozen, cooked, or ground in the garbage disposal) within the area and not transported outside of the quarantine boundary,” Flores says. “We also ask that if home gardeners are disposing of fruit or vegetables that they do NOT compost it or add it to their green waste bin. We ask that they double-bag the produce and place it in their regular garbage can. This ensures that if there is Oriental fruit fly larvae in the produce, that it is contained and not allowed to hatch and spread.”
Flores says the quarantine is expected to remain in effect until June 2024.
These rules are tough enough on backyard gardeners who want to share their homegrown apples or oranges. But this quarantine is devastating for Soil Born Farms’ American River Ranch, which is located on the American River Parkway in Rancho Cordova. The oldest operating farm in the Sacramento area, the ranch grows dozens of types of produce for its farm stand.
“We are definitely in the quarantine area and they have imposed restrictions on us via multiple in-person visits,” says Shawn Harrison, Soil Born founder and co-director.
Multiple traps have been set up on the farm, he adds. “We have not seen any evidence of this insect on the farm to date.
“The impact of the quarantine was immediate for us and will extend through around June of 2024,” Harrison continues. “At this point, all of our fruiting crops must be processed in the kitchen for value-added (products such as jam or baked goods) or composted, as no fresh fruiting crops can leave the farm.”
The range of affected fruits and vegetables is wide, and the timing is terrible.
“This order cut short our last summer fruiting crops and is now affecting our apples, persimmons, pomegranates, winter citrus, spring cherry crop and early summer fruiting crops in 2024 like summer squash and cucumbers,” Harrison says.
What can an organic grower do?
“We may do some limited sprays of Spinosad, which is approved by our (California certified organic farm) certifier, but that is not our preference as it is costly and antithetical to the ecological goals of the farm,” he says.
“All in all, this order has created a really tough situation for us financially, which following right on the heels of three challenging Covid years, has made it doubly tough,” Harrison says. “We are obviously complying though, because this is a horrendous agricultural pest that cannot get into the larger farm production areas.”
Soil Born supports its educational programs through its farm stand sales. The non-profit welcomes donations to help make up for this shortfall. (Learn more at www.soilborn.org.)
Although under quarantine, Soil Born will continue to host in-person events such as “Halloween on the Farm,” from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.
How bad is OFF? It’s one of the worse invasive insects. “The Oriental fruit fly is known to target over 230 different fruit, vegetable, and plant commodities,” says CDFA. “California crops at risk include pome and stone fruits, citrus, dates, avocados, and many vegetables, particularly tomatoes and peppers.
“Damage occurs when the female fruit fly lays her eggs inside the fruit,” adds CDFA. “The eggs hatch into maggots, which tunnel through the flesh of the fruit, making it unfit for consumption.”
Backyard and community gardeners can check the CDFA's host list linked on this page (under Information) to see which crops are host plants and thus quarantined. (To do a deep dive into the information, read the extensive US Department of Agriculture list, linked on this page. ) (Note: These links are updated from earlier ones that weren't working.)
What should people do if they suspect Oriental fruit flies in their garden? Notify the CDFA. Says Flores, “They should call the California Department of Food and Agriculture Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.”
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For week of Nov. 26:
Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!
* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.
* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.
* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.
* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.
* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.
* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.
* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.
* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.
* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.
* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.
* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.
* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.
* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.
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* Plant garlic and onions.
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