Tomato problems 3 – A handful of pests.

If you’ve been following our series of posts about growing healthy tomatoes, you’ve probably succeded in getting  a whole bunch of beauties ripening on your vines by now. You might even have managed to eat a few from your bounty.

But there will be other eyes on your ripening tomatoes. There are many many insects that enjoy our Tomatoes as much as we do. Not only do they like to eat them, many lay their eggs in them and let the young grow, protected inside.

I’ll only look at a few pests in this post. There’s a whole library of information on problems, pests and pest control building on this website now that I’ve taken some pretty good pictures! You can find that info here.

Let’s get started!

Green Vegetable Bugs.

Also known in some places as Green Stink Bugs, these bright green pests are a threat to many of our favourite vegetables, including Tomatoes. They suck the sap from green growth, can transmit some diseases and lay their eggs on our plants.

Green Vegetable Bugs are one of the insects that undergo big changes at different stages of life.The pics below show the big difference between two stages (or ‘instars’). The second is of a cluster that were raised in one of our aquaponics Tomatoes.

Adult Green Vegetable Bug.
Adult Green Vegetable Bug.
Immature Green  Vegetable Bugs.
Immature Green Vegetable Bugs.

Controling Green Vegetable Bugs

Once you ‘get your eye in’ it’s easy to spot mature vegetable bugs on your tomatoes. Their bright green bodies stand out from the darker green of the leaves and when they’re disturbed, they make a quick move for the back of the leaves or fruit. Pick and squish is my favourite method!


Cutworms are a kind of caterpillar, the immature form of a little brown moth.

They are a common cause of irregularly shaped holes in your tomatoes. They’re also a pest of young tomato seedlings which they cut the stems of at soil level.

Interestingly, adult cutworm moths are pollinators as well but pollinate at night, which can lead to some of the problems that you saw in this post.

Cutworm larva.
Cutworm larva.
Adult Cutworm Moth.

Controlling cutworms

Netting the area can help too by preventing the moth access. You need a pretty fine net though.

Cutwoms climb up out of the soil, so keep leaves and stems off ogf the ground. Leaves at that level aren’t doing the plant much good anyway, so snip them off.

Once again, pick and squish is the best method. The caterpillars curl up when disturbed and often fall to the ground where they are easy targets for avid gardeners like us.

Green Looper Caterpillars

Everyone knows these little caterpillars. They arch their backs as they crawl, making a little loop before thrusting forward again. You will undoubtedly have seen them on your other vegetables (they are also known as ‘Cabbage Loopers), so watch out for them on your tommies!

Green Looper caterpillar.
Green Looper caterpillar.

Cabbage Looper moth.
Cabbage Looper moth.

Control of Green Loopers

Netting yout tomatoes is the best way to prevent infestation. Pick and squish caterpillars that wander into your protected plants.

Once again, once you get your eye in, the green of their bodies  is easy to see against the darker leaves of the tomatoes and their white stripe becomes a dead giveaway.

There are tiny, parasitoid wasps that will lay their eggs in the caterpillars  and larger wasps that will physically pick them up and carry them away to their lair as food for their young.

Spider Mites

Tiny Arachnids that make their way unseen onto our plants. We see them, firstly by their effect as they mottle and drain the colour out of leaves, then webs show in between around the leaves and stems and if we look carefully, we can see little red dots – Spider Mites!!.

They arrive at our place with the onset of the hot weather and drain the life from certain plants.

Tell-tale webbing shows that you have an infestation of Spider Mites.
Tell-tale webbing shows that you have an infestation of Spider Mites.
Spider Mites up close.

Control of Spider Mites

Once you see mottling on your leaves, start blasting them with a jet of water from youtr hose. This’ll knock adults off of the leaves and leave them helpless.

Home made White Oil works quite well.

The trick to using both of the above techniques is to repeat the treatment every 2 – 3 days. You might be knocking off the adults eggs are continuously hatching, releasing a new generation.

Nature can help us with Spider Mite infestations. As with many critters, there are tiny parasitoid wasps that love nothing better than laying their eggs in Spider Mites and their eggs. You might see little shiny black dots moving around on your affected leaves. These are Stethorus, a species of Ladybird whose favourite food is Spider Mites. Once you see them on your plants, just keep feeding and watering the plants regularly and, within a couple of weeks, you will see the plant recovering.

You can help Nature reduce Spider Mite populations by removing affected leaves at the terminal end of branches where you can see a lot of webbing. I’ve not seen too many predators in these areas  as  they seem to prefer to do their deeds on the underside of leaves further down the plant.

Ladybird Beetles love to eat Spider Mites.
Ladybird Beetles love to eat Spider Mites.

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How do you feel about a subscription based section for Ligaya Garden?

For nearly seven years now, Ligaya Garden has been a labour of love for our family. The website,  has been a project that I started in order to chronicle it all so that folks could gain a little inspiration and a lot of practical knowledge.

All of the information that I’ve shared there so far has been free but the time has come when we need to earn a little money from it all. It’s taking a lot of time and effort to keep it all running.

So I’ve decided to add a subscription aspect to our efforts. It’ll be a nominal fee for subscription only information. All new posts and pages will still have free information but there will be more in-depth information in the subscription only sections.

We will have monthly bonuses for paid subscribers  and a periodical chat session where you can ask literally anything about growing your own food and establishing your own resilience.

I’m thinking of $5.50 per month for the subscription and a yearly subscription for $50 if you want to pay up front. Of course, folks can always donate as they feel fit too. We’re staying away from selling products and buying into that whole capitalist thing of growth at all costs. All we’re interested in is covering our costs and gathering a little more to kick off our upcoming books and videos.

What do you think, would you be interested in subscribing?


Cheap potting mix nitrogen blues

The cheapest potting mix is mostly just fine woodchips.
The cheapest potting mix is mostly just fine woodchips.

When I was a boy…cheap potting mix and a bag of wood chips were different things. Now, though, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference…

The problem with buying these cheapest potting mix (I’ll not name the brand but pictured, its a general thing) is that it’s mostly wood chips. When you plant into it, the microbes that find themselves there and in the soil that it rests on, take nitrogen out of whatever nutrients are in there in order to break down the wood. That means that there’s less for the plants and their leaves go yellow.

Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient – it is used to make proteins, including the enzymes that bacteria use to break down nutrients into plant accessible forms. It’s most important role, though, is that it is part of DNA and RNA, without which, growth and life itself is impossible.

Lack of nitrogen shows itself as yellowing in the older leaves at first, as the plant reclaims it and moves it to new growth. Eventually though, a long term deficiency will yellow the whole plant.

The key when using this kind of cheap potting mix is the same as when you’re using woodchips as mulch. That is to add a nitrogen rich fertilizer such as very dilute chook poo before you use the mix. That’ll add the nitrogen needed to break down the wood and leave enough for the needs of the plants that you plant into it.

Cycles of things that eat our veggies and things that eat them

I’ve learned a new set of rhythms to our garden over the last couple of years. The local rhythms or predtor and prey cycles

As soon as the hot weather arrives, Spider Mites start to infest, first the Blackberry Nightshades that I now keep for just this purpose. Then they infest the poor Pepino in the back yard.

Over the last couple of years I’ve considered pulling out this poor Pepino, so sickly looking and infested does it get but it springs back valiantly after support arrives. That plant is now an essential part of the ecology of Ligaya Garden and has become a key indicator ot the time of yeas, as perceived by some pest species and the predators that follow.

Spider Mites are a pest of the early hot weather.
Spider Mites are a pest of the early hot weather.

I know now that If I don’t panic and wait for a month, the cavalry will arrive and Ladybird Beetles will appear on the Pepino, feasting on the Mites. Strangely though, they don’t attack the populations on the Nightshades. The arrival of the shiny little black dots that are Ladybird Beetles is a sign that it’s time to remove the infested Nightshades and greatly reduce the Mite population, apparently without reducing their predators. Later, I find these beetles on out summer beans and tomatoes.

Whitefly prefer the warmth but a few can be found in the garden all year.
Whitefly prefer the warmth but a few can be found in the garden all year.

Whitefly appear at almost the same time as the Mites and a couple of weeks later, Hoverflies appear. Unfortunately, in the aquaponics, the Whitefly hit hard and fast and need a little manual control. Those in the front garden are left alone, beyond the occasional blast with a jet of water when I am hand watering (I just can’t resist). Once the hoverflies are there. I know to back off on the manual control.

Hoverfly larvae make short work of Aphids and Whitefly.
Hoverfly larvae make short work of Aphids and Whitefly.

The Whitefly are the dinner for the Hoverflies who are then ready for the inevitable arrival of Aphids.

Uroleucon, the Lettuce Aphid ae with us mostly in  late Winter and Spring.
Uroleucon, the Lettuce Aphid ae with us mostly in late Winter and Spring.

Aphids aren’t all that bad either. I’m not sure on which plants they overwinter, but by the time of the arrival of the Aphids, tiny predatory wasps are only a little behind, supported by Ladybirds.

Year round, we have a host of tiny spiders, though the presence of individual species varies from season to season, there are always representatives present. From little things the size of a full stop with tiny webs spun between the Kale leaves to the Colonus jumping spiders in their many colours and forms – I’ve seen six different markings here but my favourite are the tan ones that live by the rain tanks, they have markings on their abdomen that look like smiley faces.

No, I didn't draw the markings on - they really do have smiley faces!
No, I didn’t draw the markings on – they really do have smiley faces!
Woodlouse spiders do a great service throughout the year keeping Slaters under control.
Woodlouse spiders do a great service throughout the year keeping Slaters under control.

The oddest looking spiders are the flesh coloured Woodlouse spiders that live in small webbed tunnels beneath pavers and pots. Their colour, position and way of holding themselves remind me creepily of face huggers from that Alien movie. They used to freak me out until I found that one of their main prey is Slaters, of which we have more than enough to share.

This year, I’ve seen for the first time, Beeflys. They look kind of like a huge, hairy mosquito. They are nectar feeders in their adult stage and parasitoid in their younger stage. Unfortunately, for me they don’t just parasitise pest species alone but may make beneficial bees and insects their hosts.

Our first Bee Fly sighting!
Our first Bee Fly sighting!

I’ve also seen a Robber Fly in the garden this year, also for the first time. At first, I thought it was a type of Bee Fly, as both are amazing aerial acrobats but on closer inspection when it landed, I saw that this one was holding a fly captive. Robber Flies are agile hunters and catch their prey in flight!

A Robber Fly with its dinner.
A Robber Fly with its dinner.

Both Bee Flies and Robber Flies appear mid- season, when prey is already plenty. I would so like to know where all of these garden protectors overwinter so that I can protect their host plants and leave a few if they are weeds or seasonal. I know that the Yellow Admiral Butterfly lays its eggs on Nettles and its caterpillars hatch and eat them. I’m wondering where they live in their dormant season? Nettles disappear completely around this way at the start of the hot weather.

A Robber Fly with its dinner.
Yellow Admiral caterpillars eat Nettles.

Barring the spiders, none of these predators persist all year and that’s the lesson. They either transform, lay eggs and die or go dormant, I’m not sure which, but when they are needed , here they are!

It is that lack of understanding of natural cycles that cause many gardeners to rush for expensive and dangerous poisons. Even ‘organic’ methods don’t discriminate in their targets. However a brand of insecticide works, it kills insects – friend and foe.

I was the same. I used to freak out when the Spider Mites arrived, used to do my best to eliminate every Aphid and squash every Slug. Now I do very little. Of course, I’ll squish any pest that comes within arm’s reach but I very rarely spray, even water. The litre of home made White Oil I posted about making last year is still going!

I do a little preventative work though. I’m using grease bands to stop the Pear Slug from climbing the trunk of the Pear tree and the Ants from climbing to farm the Cottony Scale in the Orange tree. Oil traps keep Earwig numbers down in the bioponics before they get too numerous. That’s about all.

Some pests, such as Slugs and Snails are around all year and their lives are quite prrdictable – so predictable in fact that I include them whenever I am thinking of our chicken’s dietary needs. Earwigs, too are with us all year, though their numbers soar in early Summer but I know the timing and prepare for them with nightly squishing jaunts and oil traps.

If all predators were around all year, and their prey seasonal, what would they eat? Would they simply destroy populations and die or would they adapt and change diet with the season?

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