By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
A few years, I first became acquainted with hollowed out tomatoes in my garden space.
For the life of me, I could not figure out what was going on.
First I thought it was my little friend the tomato hornworm since I have seen them munch on the fruit before but I saw no proof of vegetative damage.
But one day, the culprit appeared and it was the tomato fruitworm.
The tomato fruitworm is a little stinker that is a brown, red, green, yellow or cream colored, hairy caterpillar that has pale stripes and/or black spots. It will eat leaves first and then will feast on the fruit. But since they are so polite and do not want to eat everything, they only eat the inside of the tomato leaving only the shell.
But where do these caterpillars come from and how does one control them organically. The two-pronged answer is as follows. First, the fruitworm caterpillar comes from a tan to brown moth that has a dark spot on the center of each wing.
They appear in the spring and lay their eggs on the leaves of tomato plants. The eggs appear at first a creamy white and then turn brown or red prior to them hatching. Once they hatch, your tomato plant is a smorgasbord for this creature but what can you do about it?
The best approach is to plant crops that attract beneficial insects. In this case, we are looking for the parasitic wasp or Trichogramma wasp. This beautiful insect lays its eggs inside the fruitworm’s eggs and in doing so prevents the eggs from germinating. These insects love dill, parsley and/or asters so planting these around your tomatoes will be like laying down the welcome mat.
Another approach is to release green lacewings. While these insect are commonly known as “aphid lions,” they do attack caterpillar eggs. To utilize these insects, simply release them as soon as you get them. If you see little change in the number of eggs on your tomato leaves after five to seven days, you may consider releasing another group of lacewings.
Throughout this process, do not forget to remove hollowed out fruit and do not compost. While the compost pile does get extremely hot during the summer, you are still running a chance of spreading the pest in your compost.
So until we blog again, when it comes too hollowed out fruit you cannot turn it into lemonade instead invite some helpful friends to your garden party for a feast.