Question: We have several apple trees in our back yard that are loaded with fruit. How do we tell when they should be picked?  Answer: Apples may be kept in storage for a few weeks to several months. To maintain dessert quality, and a long storage life, it is important that they be picked at the proper stage of maturity. If picked prematurely, apples are likely to be small, poorly colored, sour, tough, starchy, off-flavor, and subject to functional diseases such as bitter pit and scald.

On the other hand, over-ripe apples may develop water core while still on the tree, or after picking, and they are likely to develop soft scald and internal breakdown. Over-ripe apples, especially with some cultivars, tend to be mealy and flat in flavor. How readily the fruit separates from the tree is usually the best indicator of maturity in apples. A slight twisting movement will easily dislodge the fruit at the stem attachment if it is mature. Pick the largest and ripest fruit first, leaving smaller ones to gain a little more size and maturity.

Lopsided and deformed fruit is usually the result of an uneven distribution of the seeds resulting from poor pollination. The ground or under-color of an apple is a more reliable index of maturity than the red or over-color. When most varieties of apples become mature, the ground color changes from a leaf green to a lighter shade and eventually to a yellowish color. With most varieties , the time to pick is when the first signs of yellowing begin to appear. Store apples immediately after they are picked.

Do not store them with onions, potatoes or other strong smelling produce as the fruit will absorb flavors from them. Inspect the fruit regularly for mold, flesh breakdown, freezing or excessive ripening. Storing ripe fruit with pears may cause them to ripen faster than expected. Apples should be stored in clean ventilated wooden or cardboard boxes. An old but serviceable refrigerator makes a good fruit storage place. Ideally storage temperatures should be from 33-35 degrees F. If storage places are too dry, shriveling begins. Place the fruit in unsealed or perforated plastic bags. Shriveling of apples can be avoided by storing them in loosely tied plastic bags.

Question: During these past few days of sunshine, the outside walls of our house have been virtually covered with flies. How do we get rid of them?  Answer: Based on your description, I think the flies you are seeing are commonly referred to as "Cluster Flies." As the days shorten and the weather cools, cluster flies gather on sunny sides of structures (usually the south walls, but also east and west walls) and then enter them to overwinter.

Cluster flies get their common name from their gregarious behavior of forming compact groups of hibernating individuals. The larvae are parasites of earthworms and are found wherever their hosts thrive (usually areas of well-drained, silt-loam soil with grass cover, and a lot of trees). When their environment warms whether from a homeowner turning on the furnace in the fall or from the sun beating on an outside wall in the spring, the flies become active and seek light. In this manner, they are very similar to ladybird beetles, which incidentally will also soon be appearing on house walls.

Cluster flies enter houses through window frame openings, loose-fitting wall switches, outlets, ceiling fixtures, and cracks around window sills, baseboards and window and door frames. They then fly to windows and lighting fixtures where they may accumulate in large numbers. This activity is unsightly and annoying, and the crushed bodies, heavy with fat reserves for hibernation, stain upholstery, carpets and wood surfaces. The most appropriate control at this time of year is to apply residual perimeter sprays near potential entry points along exterior walls and overhangs to kill flies landing on the building.

Pay special attention to areas beneath eaves and around windows, doors and attic vents, particularly on the structure's south side. Aerosol sprays are recommended for inaccessible areas, but if infestation is heavy, piles of dead flies can cause a secondary infestation of beetles, rodents, and other pests that feed on dead flies. For temporary relief indoors, remove adult flies with a vacuum cleaner, or use space sprays, sticky traps or insect light traps in infested rooms.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please contact Jonathan Cox for master gardening questions at The Enchanted Cottage at 665-4086 or e-mail at

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