Most gardeners will agree there is nothing like vine-ripe tomatoes, especially when they are warmed by the heat of the sun. After spending many hours harvesting and snacking on bite-sized cherry tomatoes this summer, I have encountered a number of pests that enjoy the fruits of my labor as much as I do. It takes good planning and regular maintenance to help your tomatoes battle the elements and reach maturity.
Blossom end rot occurs on the bottom side of the tomato and is caused by calcium deficiency. This is often the result of extreme weather variations where dry periods are followed by excessive rain. Using mulch around the tomato plants and providing supplemental water during dry periods helps maintain uniform soil moisture.
Another issue caused by rain is splitting. Cracks may appear in the tomato skin after a hot, rainy day. While the fruit is still edible, it is unsightly and not favorable for selling. When a rainstorm is approaching you may consider harvesting the ripe and almost ripe fruit to avoid this.
Tomatoes exposed to direct sun may show symptoms of sunscald which results in a dry, papery surface on the fruit. This is common on plants that have been pruned, which removes the shade for the tomatoes.
One of the most common pests for tomatoes is the hornworm. These green caterpillars are several inches long and have a horn on the back end. They can be quite destructive for tomato plants by eating the leaves and even the fruit. Fruit worms, also known as corn worms, attack tomatoes by burrowing directly into the fruit. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) insecticide can be effective at eradicating worms without causing harm to humans. Manually removing the worms is a good treatment for those with a small number of plants. One intriguing remedy for hornworms is parasitic wasps, which lay eggs inside the worm. As the eggs hatch into larvae, they eat the hornworm from the inside and create cocoons attached to the outside of the worm. These appear as tiny white ovals.
Stink bugs feed on tomatoes by inserting their mouth parts beneath the surface of the skin. This causes cloudy or whitish spots on the tomato. Though it is unsightly, the fruit is still edible. Stink bugs tend not to be a major problem as their feeding period is quite short.
Regular maintenance is key for growing healthy tomatoes. Recognize the symptoms of diseases, pests and environmental stress and create a treatment plan before the problem overwhelms your crop. Choosing a tomato variety that is hardy and less susceptible to these problems is another option.
Encourage your plants to produce throughout the season by keeping up with daily harvesting. You may notice a decline in fruiting if the nighttime temperatures remain above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Taking measures to prevent problems with your crops will pay off. With regular monitoring and proper maintenance many of the issues will be kept at bay. Whether you grow your own or buy them from your local farmers, field grown tomatoes are worth the effort.