If you’ve ever found worms in your fresh blackberries, it’s an experience that sticks with you… to say the very least! Thankfully, once you know how to get worms out of blackberries then you can start snacking again with confidence, and that’s going to be our subject for today.
In this article, we’ll share a few methods for getting those tiny white worms out of your berries, as well as some tips for minimizing worm risks that you can use as a proactive defense.
So, if you’re ready, let’s talk about how to get worms out of blackberries (and beef up your ‘worm security protocol’)!
Table of Contents
The best methods for getting worms out of your blackberries
Getting rid of worms in your blackberries starts with a simple, classic precept – know your enemy. In this case, those wiggly little pests are Drosophila suzukii, more commonly known as the larvae of spotted wing drosophila, and they’re a little bit worse than your average larvae of fruit flies.
Also known as the ‘Cherry Vinegar fly’, these pests first came to the United States in the 1980’s and it’s believed that they came from Southeast Asia. It wouldn’t be until 2008, however, before they would end up in the northwestern United States and sadly, they’ve made themselves at home and now we’re stuck with them.
The reason why these larvae or little bugs are such a problem is that they are old friends with blackberries. That’s because all North American blackberries originate from the ‘Himalayan Blackberry’ –aka the ‘Armenian Blackberry’, and this fly has already got a taste for the stuff.
Unlike your average fruit fly, the Cherry Vinegar fly can lay 6 to 10 eggs at a time directly into fruits, by inserting a tubular structure known as an ovipositor. If it’s warm, these eggs can hatch in a single day, and the wriggling larvae are those worms you’re seeing eating their way out of your blackberries.
Worse, this fly likes to lay her eggs when your blackberries are just starting to ripen!
Dealing with them is really a two-part process – finding and disposing of what worms you can find and preventing them in the first place. So let’s at the first part of the process so that you can get the worms out of a current crop of berries.
Soaking out the worms – Simple method
When you are dealing with fresh-picked berries, the best way is going to be a good soak and cleaning of the berries with clean water. This is effective because it will cause the worms to come out of the berries, so that they will float to the surface and you can remove them. As blackberries are quite delicate, this is also a low-impact option that helps to keep you from squishing all of your berries when you just want to get the worms out.
The 3 most popular ways to do this are the following:
- Cold water and vinegar (Apple-cider or white)
- Cold salt-water soak
- Warm water soak
We’ll walk you through the first two options in the sections below and then add a note for the warm-water soak, in case you’d prefer to try that method.
- 1 large bowl
- 1 colander that will fit your bowl
- Cold water (spring or tap, your call)
- Paper towels
- Cookie sheet
- Thin, rubber gloves (if you’re squeamish about the worms)
How To Get Worms Out Of Blackberries In 9 Steps
1. A simple rinse with cool water
Give your blackberries a quick rinse with cold tap water before we start with the soak, removing stems as you go along as-needed, and carefully move your rinsed berries to the colander. Don’t fill it completely – we want some space in the water at the top of the bowl and for the berries to be ‘loose’ for easy handling.
2. Make your salty water or vinegar mixture
Place your bowl in the kitchen sink and fill it with cold water, either from a bottle or tap. If you will be using apple cider vinegar, then you’ll want a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part apple cider vinegar. If you’re going the salt water route, then you can fill the bowl completely with water and add 1 tsp of salt for every half liter (500 ml) of water.
3. Soak for 5 minutes
Go ahead and carefully place your colander into the bowl with your part vinegar or saltwater solution. Let it soak for a good 5 minutes
4. Agitate the berries
After 5 minutes, we need to gently move the berries a little, so that we can get a little movement in the water without squishing them. At this point, there should be little leaf bits and assorted debris, as well worms that you can scoop out of the water.
5. Soak some more
Let your berries soak for another 2 – 3 minutes and then go ahead and gently remove the colander, so that we can put it into the sink to drain. With your free hand, however, grab your bowl and put it in the sink first.
6. Drain and refill with clean water
Rinse the bowl well and fill it with clean, cold tap water, and move the bowl to the side so that you can set your colander down to drain for a few moments.
7. Move the bowl around to wash the berries
Once your colander is in the water, then you can move it a bit or carefully move your berries, so that we can get a little motion in the water and give them a thorough rinse. This should take care of the vinegar or salt and make the berries nice and clean.
8. Repeat steps 1 – 7 if additional cleaning is needed (Optional)
You can repeat the vinegar rinse if you don’t feel that the berries are clean yet, but otherwise just put your colander full of berries into the sink and let them sit for a good 20 to 30 minutes to drain.
9. Lay blackberries out to dry
Place some paper towel layers on your cookie sheet and you can carefully pour your berries onto the paper towels and spread them out to dry. You can use a kitchen towel, but you will likely end up with blackberry stains if you do. At this point, your berries should be clean and ready to snack on, cook with, or store away in your fridge or freezer!
The warm water soak option
This option is similar to what we’ve described in the previous steps, however, you’ll want to fill your bowl with warm-to-hot water and let the berries soak for a good hour before giving them a rinse. This takes a little longer, but some folks prefer it to vinegar or salt and it’s just as effective.
The heat will cause the larvae to come out of the berries and they should float to the surface, just without the need for vinegar or salt – easy-peasy!
Aside from soaking, there are a few other little tricks that you can use to help ‘minimize those flies’, with one of them being a method that you can use before you soak and the other a consideration for those making purees or jams. Let’s take a look!
Turning down the temperature
Southeast Asian fruit flies come from the tropics, so cold is a weakness of theirs that you can exploit to your advantage. If you do this immediately after you harvest them, then you can kill any eggs that were laid that day and you’ll have less worms to remove in the ‘soak’ phase.
What you need to do is put the berries in your refrigerator and set that dial so that it will be 35 degrees inside. You’ll need to maintain this temperature for 4 days and once this is done, you can give the berries a good cleaning or go through the full soaking process if you’re still worried, but the worm problem should be well and thoroughly dealt with!
Puree or mesh screening
If you are pureeing the berries with a juicer, then the augur should actually be able to collect the unsightly bits so that they won’t be a problem. If you are making a jam, however, then invest in a little fine mesh and you can use this to help ensure that those larvae don’t end up a part of your recipe.
Preventative maintenance can save you a lot of trouble
We mentioned that minimizing those worms is really a 2-part process and so in this section, we’ll tell you how to get proactive so that you’ll have less worms to deal with when the next harvest rolls around. We’ll outline the following 3 strategies so that you’ll know what to do and how they can help:
- Making homemade fly traps
- Companion planting
- Harvesting early
Sadly, since the Cherry Vinegar fly starts laying those eggs right when your berries are starting to ripen, you’ll likely always have a few worms to deal with – but with these techniques you’ll definitely be able to make a big impact and you’ll see just how big when you harvest next years berries!
Making homemade fly traps
Homemade fly traps can be made for regular fruit flies and for Cherry Vinegar flies, by sealing a plastic film over the top of a container that contains some ‘bait’ inside, usually in the form of vinegar. Small holes are made in the plastic at the top, and condensation makes the undersides of the plastic inside the container slippery – so the flies can’t get out. They are easy to make and if you have fruit-eating pets at home, you can set these in the house to get rid of fruit flies indoors, as well!
Below you’ll find what you need and a step-by-step on how it’s done!
- Plastic container (as big as a bucket or as small as a large bowl)
- Rubber bands
- Apple cider or white vinegar
- Bits of fruit (optional)
- An old ballpoint pen or a nail (for making holes)
- Plastic cling wrap
- A utility knife or razor
Steps to make your traps:
1. Fill your container of choice 1/3 full of vinegar and you can add a few fruit chunks if you like – these traps work either way, but some like to add the fruit for extra attractive ‘mojo’ to get those flies.
2. Pull out a sheet of your cling wrap, putting it tightly over the open top of your container. Secure it in place with your rubber bands so that it is stretched as tight across the top as you can get it. Use lots of rubber bands so that it won’t move easily and we’re ready for the next step.
3. Using a ballpoint pen or the tip of a nail, make small, round holes in the top – not too big, but you can wiggle the point a little so that some holes are tiny, and some are just a little bigger. This will make sure that the flies can squeeze in, but can’t simply fly directly through to get back out.
4. Place your trap buckets or bins close to your blackberries and the vinegar scent will do the rest. As they get warm, the bottom of the plastic is too slippery for the flies to cling to, so they cannot just walk over to the holes to get out. It’s simple, cheap, and EFFECTIVE, and every fly that you catch in there is one that won’t be laying eggs in your blackberries!
Trash bag traps
Along the same lines, you can put a little fruit and vinegar in a trash bag, tie the top, and poke a few holes in it towards the top where it is tied and it will work the same way. It’s not the most attractive option, but it works on the same principle and you can even ‘pretty up’ the traps to make them less unsightly if you like. Just get creative — a few Halloween odds and ends can turn a trash-bag trap into a cute ‘garden witch’, or something along those lines. Have a little fun with it!
You can get a little helping hand from Mother Nature by companion planting with your blackberries. Companion plants are simply plants that will get along with each other, and usually provide benefits such as improving the soil, repelling certain pests, and bringing pollinators and useful insects in to help.
To that effect, we’ve selected 3 plants that you might consider planting with you blackberries that can help to deal with those pesky fruit flies and more and we’ll tell you a little about each in the sections below.
Lavender is a companion planting option that looks beautiful and also smells amazing – unless you’re a fruit fly. Fruit flies are not fond of the scent of lavender at all and planting it close to your blackberries can help to keep them at bay, while also repelling fleas, mosquitoes, and moths in the process. The lavender also attracts pollinators and useful bugs such as wasps and ladybugs, so you’ll have a mini-security team for your berries, courtesy of Mother Nature!
Garlic, chives, onions — these delicious and stinky plants from the allium family are all great choices for planting with your blackberries. Not only does the scent drive away fruit flies and many other pests, but alliums have antibacterial qualities that will help at the soil level as well.
Just think – they smell funny to you, but just imagine what it’s like for those flies!
Peppermint is a favorite companion planting option for blackberries that many gardeners employ. It’s easy to take care of, as it has much the same requirements as your blackberries, and they won’t fight over resources. While the sharp-smelling mint plants are in place, you’ll enjoy the scent, but fruit flies, aphids, fleas, ants, and certain beetles won’t like it much at all.
As an added bonus, ladybugs love the stuff, so you’ll have some extra security to go with that minty garden goodness!
The final proactive step is simply being very quick about harvesting when your berries are ready to go. Waiting around is always going to mean more worms – these flies can’t resist blackberries in the first place, and as they ripen they’ll be drawn to them even more. So, harvest as early as possible and then be sure to refrigerate the berries at 35 degrees for 4 days as we described earlier in the article.
You’ll make a dent in the volume of worms that you’ll have to deal with and have a much happier harvest!
Some final words on getting those worms out of your blackberries
In today’s article we’ve talked about how to get worms out of blackberries by means of time-tested cleaning and soaking methods, as well as chilling or warm-water cleaning methods as well. While this will work for your current harvest, these flies can be real trouble so it’s best to be proactive with them to avoid a hostile bug environment.
The methods detailed above are the easiest ways to deal with the bugs and works to clean wild blackberries or those from commercial growers too.
By setting out fly traps with the steps that we’ve shared, along with some companion planting and good, early harvest habits, you should be able to stop a lot of flies in their tracks before they can become a worse problem.
Don’t worry – all of these things are easy to do and once you’re in the habit of them, it becomes almost second nature. With your 2-pronged strategy, when the next harvest arrives you’re going to love the difference it makes with your blackberries!
Thanks so much for reading and we wish you the best of luck with your next batch of delicious fresh blackberries!