Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Gang of Uglies

Hard to believe it's been almost a month since I posted last! And it's hard to believe things have come along so far already ...

So the past month has been interesting. The plants have continued to grow, and the tomatoes are ripening. My cultural practices haven't changed since I last posted -- I'm watering every morning and feeding the organic tomatoes once a week with Espoma Tomato-Tone. The "bagged" tomatoes (see this post), I'm watering every morning and feeding twice a week with Miracle-Gro tomato plant food.
The big news the past month, though, has been the arrival of various problems. I still believe that the hardest part is getting the tomatoes started, but even then, you have pay careful attention to what's happening and deal with problems as they arise. So, without further ado, here is my rogue's gallery from December:

1. Caterpillars. Wow, did I have a caterpillar problem in December! The top photo shows a tomato hornworm. For such a nasty little bugger, they're oddly beautiful. I also had little worms that burrowed into the fruit themselves. Taking my own advice, I tried to hand-pick them first, but when the numbers became too great, I switched to Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. This is a biological control that is rated for organic growth and is extremely effective against caterpillars. I used Dipel dust, which I sprinkled liberally over the tomatoes. The caterpillar problem is well in hand.

2. Blossom end rot. I was surprised by the appearance of BER (photo 2), but hey, it happened. Only the plants in the Earthbox are affected. These are Azoychka yellow tomatoes, and they are by far the most troubled of all my tomatoes. The vines are much less vigorous and, although they are bearing fairly well, they look the worst and have suffered the worst from caterpillars and leaf-rolling. My only conclusion is that I screwed up with my soil mix in the Earthbox and didn't include enough dolomite lime and therefore they are suffering from calcium deficiency. Once BER shows up, it's too late to save that fruit, so I removed all the affected fruit and chalked it up to experience.

3. Leaf rolling. A few of my tomatoes are affected by leaf rolling on the lower branches. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why, and I never figured out a way to correct it. Fortunately, though, it hasn't affected the growth of the vine and the plants will leaf-rolling are still loaded with fruit.

4. Overgrowth. I wrote about this earlier, but I have been aggressively trimming the vines all month. I've now topped all the vines, including the ones that have hit my roofline, but they are still trying to burst out all over the place. Not. Gonna. Happen. I want bigger, more abundant fruit, so from now on, it's me versus the vines. No more foliage growth allowed!

So besides my watering/feeding routine, this is how I spent November in the tomato patch: squishing caterpillars, dusting the plants, and removing yellow tomatoes affected with BER. I have not yet harvested any fruit, but I can see that a few tomatoes are beginning to lighten up already, so I expect to have photos of vine-ripening tomatoes soon.

Up next: Some progress photos


  1. Wow! this sounds wonderful. What varieties are you growing? Some of the newer varieties are less susceptible to blossom end rot. Interesting to read about your caterpillar problem. I think it is somehow zone related. I live in zone 3 and have never seen one on a tomato plant. I used BT on some Columbines. It never totally killed them tho. Instead each successive generation of caterpillars came back smaller. They ate all the leaves. Moving the plant didn't help either. I live in a different house now and don't have the same problem.

  2. Hi, Melanie! Thanks for stopping by.

    I'm growing Better Boy, Azoychka, Belgian Giant, Homestead 24 and Marvel Stripes. Only the Azoychkas are affected by BER, and this is my first year in an Earthbox, so I'm pretty sure it's my fault with the soil mix. The other plants (in the ground, in containers, and in coconut coir grow bags) are all free. I'm experimenting this year with many different growing systems, fertilizers, and soil amendments.

    Never seen a caterpillar?! Wow. I live in zone 10b, in South Florida, so winter is our growing season. And we have some crazy mean pests down here. Earlier this season, I picked a hornworm that was almost 7 inches long. The Bt works wonders for me when I use it, but I always try to control by hand first.

    I'm guessing it's deep winter where you are, so I hope you enjoy a little "garden break." What are you growing this season?


  3. Yes We have lots of snow. I haven't started thinking about gardening season yet. Last year I couldn't get into the garden until mid May.

  4. Wow ! This seems to be awesome. I am growing tomato this year. I am using irrigation system for watering the plants as there is very less chances of getting water. I want to know that is it the right season for growing the tomato ? If I am not wrong, we can grow tomato in all seasons ?