An Easy-to-Clean Red Ball Trap

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Many gardeners are used to placing red ball traps in apple trees after they bloom to attract and catch apple maggot flies (Rhagoletis pomonella). You simply coat the trap with a glue that doesn’t dry, like Tanglefoot, and the flies, attracted by what looks like a juicy mature apple, remain stuck on it, never having a chance to lay their eggs on the real apples nearby, still small and green. 

Apple maggot problem solved!

The problem, though, is that you have to clean the ball at some point, either in the middle of the season when it becomes full of flies, or at the end. Normally, this is done with a putty knife and it’s sticky, messy and disgusting task! (Read Time to Clean Up Red Ball Traps to learn more.)

But reader Nicole Coulombe suggests a more practical way to use this trap. 

At the beginning of the season, cover the ball with cling wrap (yep, straight from your kitchen!), then coat the film with glue instead of the trap itself. When you need to clean the trip, just remove and dispose of the film, and reapply cling wrap and glue. It’s less disgusting and just as effective, and imagine the time you save!

Why didn’t I think of that?

Time to Clean Up Red Ball Traps

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By the end of the season, a red ball trap can be nearly covered with apple flies! Photo: laidackgardener.blog

I don’t know about you, but my apple trees are “decorated” with red ball traps covered with Tanglefoot (a non-drying glue sold in garden centers) from the time the tree stops blooming until about the time I start to harvest my apples.

I put them up to catch apple maggots (Rhagoletis pomonella)the so-called “worm” that bores holes in apple fruits, rendering them almost unusable—before they can do any damage. But by fall they’re no longer useful: the female moth that will lay next season’s maggot eggs is now pupating in the soil below your apple trees and won’t be harmful again until early next summer, leaving you with sticky red balls covered in dead flies. Yuck!

I supposed less environmentally aware gardeners probably just toss their traps into the garbage and buy or make more the following spring. However, I feel the need to do my ecological duty and recycle them. Indeed, they can be used over and over again and last for years. But that means you have the icky task of cleaning them in the fall.

Getting to Work

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Putty knife. Photo: freestockphotos.biz

So, set up a cleaning spot by covering a table—I prefer to work outdoors on one of those sunny, warm fall days—in newspapers, cardboard or a sheet of plastic—, get out a putty knife or table knife and put on some disposable latex or plastic gloves. Put on your earphones too and tune in to your favorite radio station or podcast. It’s time to get to work!

Holding the trap by its stem, carefully scrape it with the knife, cleaning the blade regularly with a paper towel or old cloth. When the insects and most of the glue have been removed, work baby oil or mineral spirits (an organic solvent also called white spirit or petroleum spirits) into the remaining glue, then wipe off what’s left with another cloth or paper towel.

When the trap surface is clean, dry it off and store it until next year. Clean the putty knife and put it away as well.

It’s a yucky job, but doesn’t take that long … and somebody’s got to do it!20171005A ?