Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore
You have probably read about tomato blossom end
rot, a black sunken area opposite the stem end, caused by a
“sometimes”-watering schedule as the tomato fruit is forming. Other disease and insect problems can be just
as ruinous to your tomato fruit.
fruit worms show up as holes on the surface of the tomato, or, as in the photograph,
as a large hole next to the stem where they burrow into the fruit. If you do not catch them in time and remove
them, they will hollow out the tomato. Hand
pick and destroy the worms if you see them on the plant or fruit. These worms also attack sweet corn ears. Do not plant corn near your tomatoes.
Tomatoes can be sunburned just as we can. Called sunscald, it shows up first as a large
whitish area on the exposed part of the fruit.
The plants need at least six hours of sun a day, but tomato fruit needs the
shade provided by the leaves of the plant.
Grow healthy plants by providing adequate water and low nitrogen
fertilizer so that the vines will develop healthy leaves to protect the
is a fungal disease that hits the tomato plant and fruit. On the fruit, it appears as small, sunken,
dark spots. If you harvest them quickly
and use them right away, all you have to do is cut out the infected spots. If left on the plant (or windowsill) the
spots will grow and the fruit will rot.
If the fungal disease is severe, you can combat it with fungal spray
labeled for tomatoes or pull up and dispose of the vines. Grow varieties resistant to anthracnose.
chew large holes in the fruit, which appear as sunken brown calloused
areas. Just hand pick these large,
squishy caterpillars and dispose of them.
I am too squeamish to do this, even with gloves, so I leave their
disposal to my husband. Just thinking
about handling them gives me shivers.
The weather and the gardener cause cracks in the
fruit. A long dry spell followed by good
soaking causes the fruit to swell and the skin to split. These openings can let in disease, making the
fruit susceptible to rot. So, if the
rains don’t come, the tomatoes need you to give them water. Keep the soil mulched and moist.
Pinworms cause small Holes and black tunnels in
the fruit. Destroy the fruit in order to
get rid of the pest.
Stink bugs feed on the green fruit, causing those
yellow spots with white, firm flesh underneath on the ripe fruit. Stinkbugs are hard to control. You do not want to hand pick these
pests. Their name says it all. Cut out the tough white area when serving the
fruit. Kill the stinkbugs with
insecticidal soap spray or repel them with garlic spray.
Slimy visitors, like slugs and snails, also have a
taste for tomatoes. You can tell if they
have been munching by the slime trail they leave behind. Either ring the plants with copper tape made
to discourage these nighttime visitors, or trap them by supplying hiding places
during the day. Melon shell domes make
good traps. During the day, upturn the
shells, capture, and dispose of the slimy creatures in a bucket of soapy water.
Even welcome garden visitors can cause some
damage. Birds do more good than damage
to most gardens, eating insects by the hundreds. They can also be a nuisance if they decide to
taste tomato fruit. Small peck holes
will soon rot. You can harvest the
tomato and use it quickly before rot sets in.
I have found that filled birdbaths, both on the ground and on pillars,
are a huge help in keeping birds and even squirrels from sampling
tomatoes. Both may just be thirsty.
like box turtles, which is my guess for the damage to this partly ripe tomato
shown here. This is a good reason to
either plant extras for your garden dwellers or cage the plants so that the
fruit is not on the ground. Caged
tomatoes in this garden with fruit high off the ground were not touched, ruling
out opossums, raccoons, and squirrels, all of which are good climbers and tend
to take their food to a safe spot. This
tomato on the ground was eaten on the vine.
It could also have been a family of field mice, but my money is on the
To try to keep unwelcome critters from visiting
your tomatoes, you can fashion scare devices with aluminum strips or pie
plates, or inflated owls on posts. However,
you do need to move any of these every few days or the thieves learn they are
not a threat.
A few things to remember about tomatoes:
- Many heirlooms
are more susceptible to most diseases.
- Heirlooms have
more intense flavor than many of the new varieties but they will seldom
set as much fruit.
- Weeds can harbor
pests. Keep the vegetable garden
- If you grow
tomatoes in containers, every year before you plant, disinfect the
containers by dipping or scrubbing them with water and bleach, 10 parts
water:1 part bleach, and fill them with fresh soil.
- If you grow
tomatoes in the ground, move the planting bed each year to a new growing
area. This is called crop rotation. Wait at least three years before
planting in the same spot.
- Destroy, do not
compost, any infected fruit or plants.
Most home compost does not get hot enough to kill overwintering
insects or pathogens.
- Turn your garden
soil every fall after harvest. This
destroys any insect larvae that might overwinter.