Fruit fly threatens to decimate backyard orchards, vegetable patches in Bendigo

Backyard orchards in Bendigo are under siege from fruit flies, prompting calls for a community-wide approach to halting the insects’ march south.  

Local growers have already reported finding the larvae of Queensland fruit fly inside stonefruit and other produce this summer. 

Among those affected is East Bendigo woman Nicole Porter, who is using social media to map the spread of the bug across Bendigo and to share tips between growers about how the destructive pest is best handled.

Dozens of green-thumbed residents joined her Bendigo Region Fruit Fly Facebook page in its first two weeks, posting pictures of maggot-infested fruit from their gardens. 

“Last year, I threw out pretty much everything,” Ms Porter said.

“This year I've had the flies in the plums so far, so I've picked that whole tree because It wasn't worth doing anything with them.”

Until recently state government funding has focussed on three fruit-growing regions: Sunraysia, the Yarra Valley and the Goulburn Valley.

Agriculture minister Jaala Pulford announced in December another round of community grants for regional Victorians to safeguard their crops against the bug.

But Ms Porter said there was no measure to protect backyard plantations and they would remain at risk unless all fruitgrowers sought to contain the spread.  

At her East Bendigo home, she set traps for the flies and strung purpose-made bags around growing fruit. But the process was expensive and with one fruit fly capable of laying hundreds of eggs, a single insect had the potential to cause extensive damage.  

“That’s why I started the Facebook group; if we can get people together that are trying different things, we will have a better idea of how to manage the problem,” Ms Porter said.

After investing in as many as 100 chilli plants last year only to have them decimated by fruit flies, Ascot man Rhys Livens’ has all but given up on the hobby. 

His apricot trees have already succumbed to the pest this season, its fruit now bagged and ready for disposal.

“I love fresh fruit but I said to the missus the other day, ‘I've got a mate who's got 100 acres at Axedale and he might as well have [the trees] because there's not point having them here,” Mr Livens said. 

“[When] I was a kid, i used to ride around on my bike, leaning over people's fences picking fruit, but those days are gone now.”

While the critter had already set up home in Bendigo, orchard owner Katie Finlay said it had not yet reached her organic farm in Harcourt.  

“We're dreading it, but we're ready,” Ms Finlay said. 

“There are growers who live in areas who manage it, it just feels like a big step that's coming for us.”

To control fruit fly, gardeners are advised to collect contaminated fruit in a bag, leaving them in the sun for a week to kill any maggots before discarding them. Untreated fruit should not be composted.