You don't have to grow corn to have a reason to worry about seed corn maggots.
Seed corn maggots mostly feed on decaying organic material, but sometimes they feed on the roots and seeds of over 50 different garden plants. Also known as the bean seed fly, seed corn maggots may be tiny, but they can ruin several of your crops.
Seed corn maggot description
Seed corn maggots (Delia platura) are small, dark grey flies with grey wings, black legs, three stripes on the back, and scattered bristles. Less than 1/4” long, seed corn maggot adults looks nearly identical to onion maggot flies. White or off-white larvae are legless and have rounded tails and pointed heads. Pupal cases are brown and hard and look like skinny footballs.
Seed corn maggot damage
Seed corn maggots often feed on the seeds of corn, peas, beans, and soybeans but they do not always kill the embryos within the seeds. When those seeds germinate, they are spindly and rarely make it to maturity, wasting valuable resources. Other crops commonly attacked by seed corn maggots include cucumbers, melons, onions, peppers, and potatoes.
Seed corn maggots may tunnel into the stems and roots of many different garden plants and feed on spinach leaves, often providing points of entry for other pests and diseases.
Seed corn maggot lifecycle
Adult flies emerge in spring and begin feeding on nectar and honeydew. After mating, females lay an average of 270 eggs in the soil, near the surface. One week later, larvae emerge and begin feeding. One to three weeks later, larvae move back into the soil where they pupate for one to three weeks, or over the winter.
How to control corn seed maggots
The key to controlling corn seed maggots is in the soil. While I am a proponent of no-dig gardening, repeated appearances of corn seed maggots warrants disturbing the top 2 or 3 inches of soil on a regular basis during the spring and summer months. Research is being conducted on the possibility of beneficial fungi being used to control these pests, but it is not currently an option.
As is nearly always the case, prevention is far easier. You can reduce the odds of seed corn maggots attacking your crops by waiting for the weather to warm up before planting, and spacing plants properly. Anything that slows germination or initial seedling growth makes it easier for seed corn maggots.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!