As seen in the June/July issue of From Scratch magazine:
Ah, chickens….so much joy in such small, fluffy, feathered packages. So many eggs, so many antics, so many….flies. I am well aware that our tiny suburban homestead fly population pales in comparison to that of a real farm, but our tight proximity to our non-chicken-keeping neighbors makes it hugely important to keep them under reasonable control. And my general, insatiable (possibly pathological) quest for tidiness also dictates that I wage a merciless war on these buzzing, winged, soulless demons. With one caveat: I want to wage a merciless responsible war….no chemicals, please.
There is a reason that the over-the-counter tacky (in more ways than one) fly strips are the most commonly used method of fly control; they are totally effective. They also aren’t completely awful with their ingredients. But, after watching in horror as one of my chickens fluttered too close to a fly strip and then proceeded to wrap herself, mummy-style, in it….I am not a fan. Besides, they look so terrible hanging around the garden and house. I don’t care how efficient they are; they ugly.
So it was with embarrassing enthusiasm that I decided to do some good old-fashioned internet research on what sorts of homemade fly strip recipes people were tossing around out there. I figured there just had to be a way to build a better mousetrap–er, flytrap….you get what I mean.
The DIY fly paper recipes I came across all called for pretty basic ingredients: strips of paper dipped in a sticky mixture of water and either honey, sugar, corn syrup, molasses or any combination of the four. I tested and re-tested infinite versions of these things, and you know what? Disappointingly, I just did not come out with any decent results. These strips were brilliant at attracting flies, but let me tell you how frustrating it is to watch a big fat bug land on your painstakingly-made sugar-paper, have it leisurely mosey around for a lovely snack, and then fly happily off into the sunset. It is way beyond frustrating.
I knew there simply had to be a better way, and after going back to the drawing board, I stumbled across an organic over-the-counter product called Tanglefoot.
Do you hear angels singing? I hear angels singing.
Bingo. Listed by the OMRI (Organic Material Review Institute) for use in organic gardening, it is an all-natural super-sticky paste made of gum resins, vegetable oil, and wax. Can I make it at home? No. But I can buy it on Amazon, so that’s close enough, right? Used on homemade fly strips, it works like a darned charm.
Aesthetically, I decided to get a little more creative with this new flypaper attempt. Instead of paper, I used two pieces of yellow duct tape (sticky sides pressed together) to form strips. There are three reasons for this choice: the first is that Tanglefoot requires application to a non-porous surface for best results, the second is that I have read several accounts that flying insects are attracted to the color yellow—I’m not sure if this is a scientific fact, but I happen to like the color yellow, so I am willing to take that chance. (See my notes on other colors below) Secondly, duct tape is inherently durable and weatherproof, and therefore, reusable.
Once I had assembled several strips of double duct-tape, I punched holes in either end of the strips in order to attach both a wire hanger to the top, and a weight to the bottom.
I decided to cut the ends into points. I don’t know why. This has nothing to do with their fly-trapping success.
For the weights, I decided to use some re-purposed chandelier crystals, because I’m fancy like that.
If you don’t have any chandelier crystals (or don’t want to be so fancy) just a simple bit of wire works as a hanger, and something slightly heavy to attach to the bottom will help to keep it from fluttering too much in the breeze (try a small ‘chip clip’ or alligator clip).
At this point, I went ahead and hung them, put on a pair of gloves (this stuff is sticky), and painted the Tanglefoot liberally to each side of the duct tape.
Because honey had proven to be such good bait, I also went and dabbed some small spots of it along each side to lure those buggers in. The proof was in the pudding—within one day, those things were ripe with victims.
Muhahahahaha! The results after just ONE day.
After this article went to print in From Scratch, I got some feedback about my fly strip color choice. There are lots of conflicting opinions out there about what color attracts flies best; red, blue, and yellow seem to be the most common color choices (although the latest OTC strips from Rescue are a graphic pattern of white, bright green, yellow, and turquoise). I decided that I wanted to put this concept to a little bit of a test, so I went ahead and made three versions of my fly strips–one in each color. I hung them relatively close together under the grapefruit tree as I did my original yellow ones, and I also hung up one of the graphic Rescue brand ones, slightly further away (so that the honey attractant on mine wouldn’t skew the results of the Rescue one), just for comparison.
Let the color wars begin!
Here’s a shot that shows the Rescue strip off to the right of the rest.
The results were….interesting. First of all, we seem to have a lot fewer flies, currently. I think this is largely due to it being a couple of months further into the season, as well as possibly a result of some of the fly deterring methods we’ve implemented throughout this seek and destroy mission. So, after one day, the results are as follows:
The yellow strip, front and back, had a total of about a dozen flies (not including a couple of other little unfortunate buggies).
The blue strip had about a half dozen flies (also not including one or two non-fly insects and a bit of dirt).
Ah, the red strip….it got nothing. Maybe one or two little tiny bugs of some variety–but zero flies.
The Rescue brand fly strip? Two small flies and that’s about it.
Obviously, the best way to thoroughly test these involves a lot more time and several varied testing scenarios–so I will continue to investigate and post my findings later. For now, it kind of seems like a close call between yellow and blue (at least as far as the flies in my yard go). I’d be curious to hear what has worked for others.
Suffice it to say, I’ve had pretty decent success with these fly strips. I like them better than the store bought, not only for the aesthetics, but for the fact that I can make them a bit shorter in length (or longer, if I really wanted to), which means I can keep them out of the reach of fluttering chickens (and if a bird does happen to get too close, there isn’t so much sticky surface area for her to get completely wrapped up in).
In addition to the fly strips, I also believe in tucking a lot of insect-repelling plants into my garden. Lavender, mint, basil, marigolds, amongst others, really seem to do the trick. I may have gone overboard with the basil and marigolds….I like them a little bit more than is necessary.
The chicken garden is chock-full of anti-fly plants. It doesn’t hurt that my hens seem wholly uninterested in messing with these plants, as well.
To be totally honest, the moment when I realized there was a noticeable decrease in flies was when the bulk of these plants went in.
Finally, we have come to the poop portion of the proceedings. It’s pretty logical that poop=flies. The more you can keep up with cleaning the poop, the fewer flies you’re gonna have. I pick up both dog poop and chicken poop daily, and put them in designated poop bins (some of the chicken poop goes into compost bins, some goes in its own container to give away to composting neighbors and friends).
Labeled, in case there is any confusion.
In addition to keeping things clean, I do dust occasionally with diatomaceous earth, especially in and around the coop. Another thing I like to do (it’s a bit gross, sorry–at least I didn’t insert a photo), is to leave a bit of dog poop in the pooper-scooper (in an out-of-the-way place), and sprinkle it liberally with DE as a little fly lure. They won’t die immediately, but they certainly will get the DE on them when they land there, and it will eventually do its glorious dirty work.
All in all, we seem to be managing just fine, but then again, we’ve only got just the four hens, and we’ve got some pretty un-impressively-sized flies in our little suburban backyard. I’m sure I have no clue what a real fly problem is….I have heard some horror stories, and while I find ours annoying, at least they don’t bite and don’t carry off small children. Gotta count my blessings.