Grow So Easy Organic: How To Protect Tomatoes from Disease & Bugs

Close up of Blossom end rot tomato dissection

Close up of Blossom end rot tomato dissection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomatoes, like every other living thing, can come down with some maladies that are easily recognized.  The bad new  is that once you know what the disease is,  there is often little that you can do about it.  The good news is that most of the fruit can still be eaten if affected portions are removed.

Here are the most common diseases that can afflict tomatoes.

Blossom end rot
This one is very common problem on organic tomatoes. If a brown, spot about the size of dime appears on the blossom end of the fruit, your tomatoes have it.  Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency coupled with fluctuations in moisture. Remove the affected fruit so other fruits on the plant will develop normally.  And if you’re going through a dry spell, start watering the plants to ensure they get 1 to 2 inches a week.

Cracking
Cracking is another problem that occurs when soil moisture fluctuates. Select varieties that are crack-resistant, and keep them adequately watered at all times. Keep in mind that soil drying followed by watering encourages cracking.

Cloudy spots
If you find irregular, grey or white spots just under the skin, you’re tomatoes have been attacked by stink bugs.  The damage can be done at any stage of the fruit’s development so keep a weather eye out for these bugs and crush them with wild abandon when you find them.

Flower drop
Flower drop is a problem directly related to air temperature.  It usually happens when temperatures fall lower than 55 degrees at night but higher than 95 degrees during the day.  It can also happen when night temperatures remain above 75 degrees. The problem usually disappears and fruits set normally after the weather improves.

Sunscald, poor color
Remember I said not to prune leaves too vigorously?   If you remove too many leaves you risk exposing the fruit to too much sun, raising the temperature of the tomato and causing scald and uneven color. Good foliage cover helps prevent sunscald.

Catfacing
I’ve never had catfacing but I’ve heard of it.  Symptoms are badly formed tomatoes on the blossom end that usually have a rough spot that looks like scar tissue. Cold weather at time of blossom set intensifies the deformities. Catfacing is most common in the large-fruited, beefsteak-type tomatoes.

Bugs That Bug Tomatoes
Here is a list of common insects that can cause damage to tomatoes.  I have only had a few problems with insects.  If your plants are healthy and you are vigilant, you probably won’t have many of these problem bugs chowing down on your tomatoes, either.

  1. Aphids – Small, pear-shaped insects that like the top growth and undersides of leaves. Spray insecticidal soap and remove any weeds in the area which may serve as hosts for aphids.
  2. Cutworms – fat gray, black or brown worms up to 1-1/4 inches long, cutworms chew through stems of plants close to the soil surface.  Use a toilet paper roll to make a collar that you place around transplants or around the base of young plants as you set them in the ground.
  3. Flea beetles – Tiny black beatles about 1/16 inch long that attack young transplants and leave them looking as if they have been shot full of small holes.  Crush them with your fingers but move quickly, these babies are Olympic jumpers!
  4. Hornworms – Large green worms up to 4 inches long that eat foliage and fruit. Handpick the worms if only a few – remember the pliers.  Or buy parasitic wasps and let them lay their eggs on the hornworm.
  5. Spider mites – Tiny tan or red mites that are almost invisible to the naked eye, mites cause small yellow specks and fine webs. Forceful water sprays and insecticidal soaps may be used for control.
  6. Stalk borers – Creamy-white to light purple larvae that eat tunnels in the stem, causing the plant to wither and die. Remove and destroy weeds where the insect may breed. Locate the hole in stem where the borer entered, split stem lengthwise above the hole, and kill the borer. Bind the split stem, and keep the plant well watered. Spray to prevent further infestations.
  7. Stink bugs –On my top ten most hated bugs, these babies can be brown, tan, green or black shield-shaped bugs that give off a foul odor when startled or crushed. They suck juices from the plant and cause hard whitish spots just under the skin of the fruit. They fly, multiply fast and eat anything, so find them and their eggs and crush them.
  8. Tomato fruitworm – this is one I’ve never seen but my Rodale book says it’s green, brown or pink  and it eats holes in fruit and buds. If you look at the base of the fruit stem and find a darkened hole, remove the fruit and cut it open.  You should find tunneling caused by the caterpillar and sometimes caterpillar itself.  Kill the fruitworms before they become moths.  Parasitic wasps like the Trichogramma are natural enemies and will use these worms to host their eggs, too.

Recipes
Got a lot of tomatoes and don’t know what to do with them?  Here are two of my favorites for ripe tomatoes and one for all those green tomatoes you will have at the end of the growing season.  Mangia!

Mucci’s Spicy Barbecue Sauce

INGREDIENTS:
24 large peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
2 c chopped onion (red)
2 c chopped sweet red peppers
2 chopped hot peppers
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 c cider vinegar
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 T dry mustard
1 T smoked paprika
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

Put all ingredients in a non-reactive pot and stir to mix together.  NOTE:  For milder bbq sauce, hold off on adding the dry mustard, pepper and paprika until 1 hour before jarring the sauce.

Bring to a boil then cook for 12 to 15 hours at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Sauce should reduce by half during this time and should have the consistency of thick ketchup when it is ready for jarring or use.  If the sauce is still too thin, just keep cooking it but stir it more often as it will burn as it gets thicker.

JARRING:
Pour hot sauce into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch head space.
Cap and tighten by hand.
Process pints and half pints for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

Best Ever Homemade Salsa

INGREDIENTS:
30 tomatoes peeled/chopped
8-10 Italian peppers – chopped
10 c chopped onions
6 large cloves garlic – chopped
3 to 5 banana peppers
¾ c brown sugar
2 c cider vinegar
1 T pickling or sea salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 T cumin
2 to 3 T chili powder
2 – 6 oz cans tomato paste – optional – will help make salsa a little thicker

NOTES:
I do NOT add salt – don’t’ think it needs it – but you can taste and add as needed.  You can spice this up using more hot peppers, hot pepper flakes or a prepared spice mix like Ball’s or Mrs Wages.  I would NOT add the entire bag but taste as you go along.

DIRECTIONS:
Put all the ingredients in a non-reactive (not aluminum) pot.
Bring to a boil then cut the heat down and simmer for 2 hours until the liquid in it is reduced a whole lot.
Jar while very hot and process in water bath for 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts.
Makes up to 17 pints.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

Green Tomato Relish

INGREDIENTS:
2 lb green tomatoes (2 c chopped)
1 lb chopped red onions
1 lb chopped Italian peppers
½ lb chopped tart apples
6 cloves garlic – chopped
1 c organic cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt (add to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
3 to 4 hot peppers – chopped – optional
2 T chopped cilantro – optional

NOTE:  if veggies and apple are chopped into ¼ inch bits, you should NOT have to process in a blender or food processor before jarring.

DIRECTIONS:

Put all ingredients BUT the cumin, hot peppers and cilantro in a non-reactive pot.
Bring ingredients to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens – 90 minutes.
Add cumin, jalapenos, and cilantro and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Ladle into hot jars leaving ½” headroom.
Process in water bath for 15 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

This recipe makes about 3 pints.  You can double or triple if you want.

Next week, we move to another garden favorite, cucumbers!  Another “easy-to-raise” vegetable that has its own challenges!

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2 responses to “Grow So Easy Organic: How To Protect Tomatoes from Disease & Bugs

  1. Pingback: Parasitism of Trichogramma chiloris (SHI) with Selected Lepidopterous Pests « INVESTIGATORY PROJECT COLLECTION

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