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Susan Sampson | Battle of fruit flies and tomatoes

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When we moved to Wenatchee, I was thrilled to be coming to a place that was warm enough for me to grow tomatoes, if only in a couple of 3-foot by 8-foot raised flower beds on our small lot. My knowledgeable neighbors must have chuckled when I grossly overplanted, but what did I know? 

I installed a dozen plants in the raised beds, and six more in our flower beds. I had never seen a tomato plant that was taller than about two-and-a half feet, so I was amazed when my plants grew riotously. Soon they were taller than I am. They overwhelmed the flimsy bamboo stakes I had used to prop their limbs, sprawled across the ground, and kept on growing. 

By mid-August I had tomatoes ripening at a rate of about 10 pounds per day. We cooked them down into tomato sauce with Italian seasonings. We had visions of spaghetti marinara, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, chicken cacciatore, anything else Italian that Lidia Bastianich cooked on TV, plus pizza of course.

Then I decided to get fancy and dry tomatoes in a dehydrator. I calculated my savings over the price of gourmet sun-dried tomatoes at the supermarket. I set up the dehydrator outdoors on my BBQ table, checked it a few times, then forgot about it.

Remembering it after sundown, I carried it indoors, but a cloud of fruit flies came streaming out of it into the house. I rushed it back outdoors and slammed the door on them, but I was too slow—I’d released a cloud of flies into the house. By morning, they had migrated to the windows, where I attacked them with a vacuum cleaner. Then I took a hose to the dehydrator trays, which were loaded with a shocking volume of fly biomass. Another whole cloud of flies relocated to my compost pile to feast on the ersatz sun-dried tomatoes that I had to discard.

I’m back to cooking my tomatoes. I tasted a dish at the India House that was a tomato sauce with cauliflower florets in it, and it was delectable, so I’ll copy that rather than eat exclusively Italian food in coming months.

I’ve learned my lesson about fruit flies. In an outdoor battle between me and them over my tomatoes, they win.

Meanwhile, how can I get tomato stain off of my fingertips? I need to learn that next.


Susan Sampson writes abour the joys of being a newcomer in North Central Washington. She raised two sons and worked as a lawyer in Seattle before retiring with her husband to see the valley. She can be reached at