Today was one of those great days when my husband and I got to walk and talk in the tomato field. We spent a few minutes admiring our tomatoes and smashing caterpillars together.
I am fascinated by the tomato bugs in our garden. They make me mad sometimes, but they are interesting.
Beetles and Larvae
Here are some Colorado potato beetle larvae on some wild nightshade. We are terrible at keeping up with the weeds in our garden. Keeping weeds down is vital to decreasing pest problems in your garden, so I’ve vowed to be better at this!
The wild nightshades do function as a catch crop for Colorado potato beetles which can cause serious damage in a garden. A catch crop means that the beetles will preferentially munch on these weeds so that there are a few less eating on our food crops. But it also means they’re breeding and multiplying in our garden area.
Adult beetles like the Colorado potato beetle and cucumber beetle can be hard to control with organic pesticides. Applying insecticidal soaps and neem oil to the larvae and nymphs of these bugs is much more effective.
The nasty red larvae grow into little yellow and black striped beetles. As we walk through the garden we often step and smash the nightshade plants and beetles.
All life stages of the Colorado potato beetle will eat away at leaves of tomatoes and eggplant as well as potatoes. So it is best to be able to recognize the larvae and adults so you can get rid of them when they are seen.
Here is another common garden pest: the tomato hornworm. These guys will eat your plants clean down to little stems. They can decimate an entire crop if not controlled.
They get pretty huge and one worm can eat an entire tomato plant. Because they are so big they can be pretty gross when squished. But it’s gotta be done. That’s what happened to this one. Sorry, big guy!
This guy was just chillin’ upside down when I found him. They try to look really scary with their horn pointed up like that, but they are harmless to people.
Their little feet are really grippy, though, and I do not like for them to grab on to me. It doesn’t hurt it just gives me the heeby-jeebies.
Hornworms become large brown moths that lay their eggs on the bottom side of tomato leaves in spring and summer. These guys will complete two life cycles over the growing season.
So keep an eye out for them as long as you have tomatoes growing. The tiny caterpillars also have a tiny little horn tail so they are easy to identify.
There is also a tomato fruit worm we often find munching the green tomatoes in our garden. That is what we call it because it will burrow into the green tomatoes and feast and get fat in there. I mean that is just rude.
So I don’t mind plucking these guys and squishing them.
These guys are just the worst because they really prefer the green tomatoes, but they will also eat the leaves and stems.
You most often find them inside a green tomato growing big and fat!
Tomato fruit worms become brown moths, and they can complete up to four generations during the growing season. They will also infest corn crops so planting tomatoes and corn near each other can lead to major fruit worm attacks.
This picture is just so sad and gross. There is a dried up little tomato on which you can still see where the fruit worm ate it and pooped all over it.
Just look at all that poop on the other tomato, too. And that nasty worm is inside just munching away. Ewww. These worms can cause a lot of damage to our crop so we walk and pluck these often, too.
Dealing with bugs
We were already infested by the time I took these pictures. If you have a similar problem with tomato bugs in your garden, pluck them and squish them when you see them. In a smaller garden, this may be enough to control pests.
A great organic option is to get some Bt to apply. Bt is a bacteria that infects and kills the caterpillars when they eat it. It makes an effective organic pesticide, and it would still be appropriate to apply at this stage.
To avoid killing pollinators, try to spray in the evening when they are less active.
All three of these pests will burrow into the soil to pupate before they emerge as adults. When you pull up your plants, make sure to check the soil and smash any pupae you find. Solarizing your soil will also help.
But the fact of the matter is that we never try to eliminate all the pests in the garden. We always expect some losses to pests and disease.
Who would want all the bugs gone anyway? What would I take pictures of? Tomato hair? Ha! Yes!
Plus there are some bugs we want to keep around.
This guy is a good friend in the garden. This little green spider with its hairy legs is a predator for many garden moths and their larvae.
They can be a little aggressive about protecting their egg sacs, but they are not dangerous. I got pretty darn close to this one to get its picture with my phone.
Here’s another picture of the Green Lynx Spider. So cool, aren’t they?
That was all I saw today. You never know what you might find in the garden.
What kinds of bugs do you have in your garden?
Might as well check ’em all out because, love ’em or hate ’em, they’re there.