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Blackberry worms and the squirm factor: Master gardeners to the rescue
Summer is a time for homemade jam, pies and other goodies, but pest infestations can bring the operation to a screeching halt.
For Federal Way residents who annually await the season's arrival so as to make homemade foods, infested berries, fruits or vegetables are an alarming find. But there are ways to ensure homegrown food is free from inhabitants before it is consumed by humans. Local help in identifying pests and keeping them away from wild and garden-grown food is also available.
Resident Linda Sullivan's hopes dropped when she experienced a nasty worm infestation in the blackberries she picked near her home last week. She plucked nearly 30 pounds of wild blackberries at the corner of 10th Street and Southwest 298th Street. She planned to make jam.
Sullivan was in the process of mixing up a round when she noticed something unusual: Worms. The bugs were wriggling out of several berries while they soaked in Sullivan's kitchen sink. They floated to the top and appalled Sullivan so much she felt compelled to reach out to fellow citizens.
Sullivan annually picks the blackberries near her home to use in gifts to friends and family, but has never witnessed worms in the berries, she said. The situation was disappointing, she said.
When the pests were described to Federal Way master gardener Larry Davis, he said they sound similar to a berry maggot. The maggots, also known as fly larvae, do not usually breed in drooping berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, he said. Instead, they usually pick currants or gooseberries.
"Blackberries, I've never seen or heard of them there," Davis said.
Worms don't have to mean the end to an otherwise good batch of berries, he said. Soaking fruits, vegetables and berries in a saline solution, such as salt water, often forces the pests to the surface. There, they can be skimmed away. The berries can then be used. Once they've been subjected to the solution, the berry is sanitized and the part that could harm a person is removed, he said. Davis mentioned this is subject to debate. Some master gardeners will advise a person to simply not eat the berry.
"It depends on how squeamish you are," Davis said.
Davis and several other local master gardeners are affiliated with the Washington State University King County Extension's master gardner program. This is a good place to get gardening and pest questions answered. The program has a free hot line, with a master gardner standing by.
Coordinator Elaine Anderson said the gardeners answering the hotline will never tell a caller whether something is safe to eat or harmful unless they are able to personally see the fruit, vegetable, berry or, in this case, the bug that is now calling that food home.
However, the master gardeners with the program appear at the Federal Way Farmers Market, 1928 S. Commons in the Sears parking lot, every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The skilled gardeners are available to answer questions. In the rare case that they are not able to diagnosis a problem, they will offer to send a sample the the extension's laboratory. The gardeners will be at the farmers market through Oct. 31.
A Pierce County Master Gardeners extension clinic is also offered at the Federal Way Lowe's location, 35425 Enchanted Parkway S., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
Check it out
• Contact the WSU King County Extension master gardeners hotline from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at (206) 296-3440.
• Visit the Federal Way Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays in The Commons mall Sears parking lot, 1928 S. Commons.
• Contact master gardener Larry Davis at email@example.com to schedule him to speak at an event or to learn more about the master gardening clinic he operates in Bellevue.