General Gardening Information

Program Contact: Toni Gwin, Extension Educator
(360) 875-9331 • tgwin@wsu.edu

MH900182665October is National Apple Month

Right along with pumpkins, there’s nothing that seems more symbolic of the fall harvest season than apples. It’s no secret that Washington apples are known throughout the world for their beauty and crunch. In fact more than half of all apples grown in the United States for fresh eating come from the 175,000 acres of apple orchards nestled in the eastern foothills of Washington state. This year, the state apple crop destined for the fresh market is estimated at over 100 million boxes! There are no harvest machines to pick apples which means each of the nearly 12 billion apples harvested is handpicked by an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 pickers. If you put all of the Washington State apples picked in a year side-by-side, they would circle the earth 29 times.

Eating fresh apples is good for you. The average U.S. consumer eats about 19 pounds of fresh apples a year, about one apple per week. A new national survey of 1,021 household shoppers across the nation conducted by the U.S. Apple Association shows people think of apples as the next superfruit. It is an accessible, value-priced, nutritional energy source on par with blueberries and pomegranates.

There’s more good news when it comes to eating healthy apples and apple products.  Studies have shown that apples and apple products (like sauce and juice) can help lower your risk of developing heart disease and reduced cancer risk. A 2001 Mayo Clinic study indicated that quercetin, a flavanoid abundant in apples, helps prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells. A Cornell University study indicated pytochemicals in the skin of an apple inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43 percent. The National Cancer Institute has reported that foods containing flavanoids like those found in apples may reduce the risk of lung cancer by as much as 50 percent.

Although apples are not grown as a commercial crop here in our coastal area, most home gardeners have at least one and more often several apple tree varieties which they savor for fresh eating. There’s nothing more disgusting, however, than finding the proverbial worm in the apple. Unfortunately, both apple maggots and codling moth are common pests in home orchards throughout Western Washington. Although neither of these pests is strictly a worm, their larvae are responsible for the majority of damage to local apples. It’s important to know the difference between these two pests, to be able to recognize the insects, and to understand how to manage their invasive behavior.

The larvae of the Codling moth are pinkish or cream-colored “worms”, which have distinct black or dark brown heads and six claw-like legs. Codling moth larvae tunnel straight to the core of an apple where they actively feed, often leaving granular, brown excrement around the entry holes that look like sawdust.

Apple maggots on the other hand, are white, headless and legless. Fruit infested with apple maggots has a mushy, brown appearance, but the core is left untouched. The apple maggot is the juvenile stage of a fly which emerges during early summer, mates and lays eggs. It doesn’t look like a common fly because it has distinct black and white striped markings on the wings. When laying each egg, the female makes a tiny puncture in the fruit and inserts the egg just below the skin. This initial fruit damage is easily overlooked, but eventually leads to fruit dimpling. The eggs hatch in 3 to 7 days as small, cylindrical, cream colored larvae known as maggots. The maggots lack legs and visible head capsules, but have dark mouth parts that protrude from tapered heads. As apple maggots tunnel through the apple flesh, they leave characteristic winding brown trails that are best seen when the fruit is cut open.  The first indication that a backyard apple tree is infested with apple maggot occurs when the homeowner discovers these brown trails in fruit at harvest. Fruit damaged by apple maggot becomes soft, rotten and often drops from the tree.

At this time of year, the best thing home orchard enthusiasts can do to reduce both apple maggot and codling moths in next year’s crop is to pick up and place in plastic bags all infested fruit (windfalls) to prevent these two notorious pests from overwintering. Infested fruit should not be placed in the compost pile!