PUBLISHED ON October 4th, 2011
Ask any kid who is greeted with a mouthful of fruit flies while passing by a prematurely rotting pumpkin on Halloween night: That’s not the treat they were expecting.
As harmless as they are, vinegar flies – more infamously known as fruit flies – tend to create a brown cloud around any rotted or spoiled perishables. A carved pumpkin propped on a porch in the sun for days or weeks on end is the equivalent of a pillowcase full of treats for these pesky insects.
When it comes to pumpkin pest control, Portland homeowners need only apply a few simple tricks to their carved pumpkins before Halloween in order to keep their works of gourd art as fresh as possible.
After cutting a good-sized opening at the top of the pumpkin, remove as much of the pulp from inside as possible. Using a metal utensil such as a spoon, spatula or small putty knife, apply a decent amount of pressure while scouring the inside of the pumpkin wall. The more of the phlegm-like guts you scrape out now, the less of a mold problem you’ll have later – especially in moist Portland. Pest control for your pumpkin means slowing the decomposition process as much as possible.
Any jack-o’-lantern or whimsically whittled pumpkin needs a cool, dry place to hang out before Halloween. Begin your pumpkin pest management by storing your gourds in the garage or basement, provided the temperate is accommodating – between 41-50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to display your carved pumpkin before Oct. 31, choose a place with limited exposure to the elements, such as on a covered porch or patio or perched in a window facing north. Avoid warm, humid places like laundry rooms or on top of the radiator.
The key to a longer-lasting carved pumpkin – and hence fruit fly pest management – is finding just the right balance of moisture. A dry pumpkin will shrivel up, deforming your jack-o’-lantern’s grin, while too much wetness will create an afro of moldy fuzz in the belly of the pumpkin. In such cases, the bottom and weak areas will rot, and your pest management scheme will have failed.
A simple mixture of 1 teaspoon of bleach and a gallon of room temperature water when sprayed daily on the inside of the pumpkin works simultaneously as a hydrating and antimicrobial solution. After spraying, turn the carved pumpkin upside down to allow it to drain. This ensures the bleach water doesn’t settle at the bottom and assist with the decaying process. When properly done, this technique can delay the rotting process and help prevent insects from swarming your gourd art.
Keep in mind that no carved pumpkin can be preserved indefinitely; the bleach solution is really just a temporary pest management costume your pumpkin can wear to stave off fruit flies for a time. After more than a week, you’ll still find normal telltale signs of deterioration: slight shriveling around detailed edges, soft spots, slimy areas where the bleach has killed mold, and perhaps even some blackish fuzz around the lid of the pumpkin. However, there should be no substantial rotting to fear – and hence no fruit flies swarming about. Your pumpkins will be sitting pretty on Halloween night in Portland; pest control achieved.
Do not be fooled by tips that suggest using any kind of glue or acrylic spray to preserve your pumpkin. Glue and acrylic spray, while initially providing a barrier between moisture and the pumpkin wall, traps in the moisture already inside the pumpkin, causing the gourd to rot early. The end result will be a fuzzy, lopsided globe that more closely resembles a harvest moon with a dozen or so persistent, winged astronauts orbiting around it.
Bleach and water sprayed on a carved pumpkin each day before Halloween is an easy, effective pest management practice for fruit flies. Keeping the pumpkins in a cool, dry place will prevent mold and rot from setting in early, and it will also keep the annoying presence of insects at bay. Fruit flies will have to scour the pumpkin patch for rejects in order to feast, because on Halloween night, when intricately cut pumpkins are lined on porch railings or clustered at door steps, the only visitors welcomed will be the ones who ring the doorbell with a sticky finger and bellow, “Trick or Treat!”
[Photo by: Rene S.]