Pest free tomatoes???

deirdre_2007(7)February 22, 2008

Okay I'll admit it. I love my flowers and my plants because, if they're infested with bugs, I know I'll never be eating them, so I can deal with it I don't vegetable garden because I'm afraid, yes totally grossed out, by having to deal with pests.

I have deep-seated issues with bugs and veggies. Long story short the first time I ever bought corn at the market, I pulled back the husk, and it was riddles with slimy bugs. I've never bought corn again, my DH does it now.

So, I'm squeamish and I've allowed this squeamishness to prevent me from planting veggies. I'm sure the fact that I'm a tiny bit lazy also prevents me from doing it too.

However I figure "maybe" I can handle tomatoes and herbs. I plan to grow some rosemary, parsley, thyme and oregano. I'm not worried about bugs with the herbs. (Am I correct??) I am worried about bugs with the tomatoes however. I'm hoping I can handle it, with your much welcomed advice.

I want to plant tomaotes so I can use them in cooking, (chili, pasta sauce), and to eat in sandwiches and salads.

Eventually, I may want to do canning/freezing, but I think I'm a year or two away from that adventure.

So please, given my squeamishness, do I have a chance to grow tomatoes? I have plenty of garden sun and I was leaning on planting them in a container. Also, I bought a "topsy-turvy" planter last year, so maybe I could use that??

Can anyone suggest a virtually pest-free tomato, or should I just stick to the shrubs?????

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Tammy Kennedy

well... i don't think there's such a thing as a pest free veggie. they all have some pests. maybe if you eased into it, you'd find you get less squeamish (that worked with me and ticks in this area -once you see a couple and get squicked out, the next aren't so bad). there's something about the process of growing your own stuff that makes you more forgiving of pests, at least for me.

you're right that herbs tend to have less of worms aka caterpillars & slugs, but they do attract bees and other pollinators when they are blooming- do bees bother you, too? some of the less aromatic, soft herbs, like cilantro, dill and parsley are major swallowtail butterfly attractants for their caterpillars- so stay away from them. i don't think basil brings in much except bees when it blooms. keep the blooms nipped off and you won't have bees. thyme, oregano, and rosemary are pretty much pest free, perennial and drought tolerant once established.

lettuce and other leafy things are slug magnets, while cabbage and cole crops are cabbage moth nurseries (for the caterpillars) but you can get around that by covering them with spun bond cloth- aka reemay- since they need no pollination. maters and peppers and eggplant attract hornworms, which is the caterpillar for the sphinx moth family, and they are kinda scary for someone who's squeamish, though they are completely harmless. actually, other than blister beetles, which like the squash clan, most of the bugs are not gonna hurt you at all. slugs also like all of those, but i haven't had too many problems with them. squash bugs, cucumber beetles and some other bugs like the cuke/melon/squash clan. bean beetles are the primary culprit for beans- and i'll admit the larvae for them are gross and i'm not squeamish. ditto potato bugs for potatoes- they are related to the bean beetles. carrots can get borers, but i've not had that problem. they are a little harder for beginners though, and the tops are yet another host for black swallowtail cats. i can't think of anything that messes with onions, radish and beets, and they are all pretty easy.

most caterpillars can be stopped cold by spraying or sprinkling with BT, which is a special type of bacteria that is harmless to us, but makes it so the caterpillars can't digest food. if you keep it up, you can pretty much prevent damage by catching them as they hatch from their eggs. for slugs, diatomaceous earth, aka DE works great. it's minutely scratchy and they don't like to crawl over it- so just ring your veggies growing area. neem oil spray helps keep other pests away. they are all organic solutions. most things can't just be covered with something to keep out pests because they need pollination to set fruit (unless you're willing to do pollinating yourself with a brush each day), but lettuce, spinach, cole crops, and underground crops are exceptions.

if your kids aren't grossed out easily, you can get them to precheck stuff for bugs for you- my kids love doing that anyhow, and that may help ease you into it, also. they just pick or knock stuff off into a soapy jar of water and the bugs die, and quickly. won't work for a big infestation, but it works great for the bigger things that don't move fast. you may find things less gross (like swallowtail caterpillars) if you help your kids raise some and see what they turn into. it's a lot harder to kill something or be grossed out when you realize they eat and change into a beautiful butterfly. kids LOVE watching that process, and it's a great way to get them involved in the garden. for aphids, a hard spray with the hose works wonders, but i haven't had many issues with aphids on much but lettuce and even then that was once.

remember, though, with veggies there are diseases as well as pests. you'll need to plant resistant varieties and or spay for those problems. it all sounds like such a hassle, but truthfully it really isn't. and once you taste your homegrown stuff, it'll be all worth it. it really does get easier.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 11:36AM
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Ok, I am not squeamish about bees. I love bees. I love the job they do. Obviously, I don't want to be stung, but I know just how incredibly valuable they are.

I guess I know that there is no such thing as a completely pest free tomato, but what about the tomato that seems to have the least amount of problems with pests and disease? Just like you said, I want to ease into it. So maybe once I start, I'll build up a tolerance. There are so many things, that I am no longer squeamish about having raised two children, so I'm figuring if I start off on a very small scale, a few tomatoes, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, that eventually I can do a whole array of herbs and perhaps venture into my own favorite veggies.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 1:25PM
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Tammy Kennedy

i think you're right- you'll be in the swing of things before you know it. it's really not dissimlar to having gone through pregnancy or changing diapers! :)

good thing bees don't scare you- that would make gardening tough. in all the years i've gardened i've only been stung i think once by a bee and that was from stepping on one accidentally. not sure ow that happened since i rarely go without shoes as an adult. i've rescued countless ones, with bare hands no less, from drowning, or moved them from one flower to another if i was picking a bouquet or whatever. they are very gentle so long as you don't startle them. wasps are another matter, but are still valuable pollinators. i just give them and their tempers more room to work. usually, unless you startle them they don't sting either. hornets and yellow jackets are another mater and i leave them as far away as i can.

i really think that all the 'maters attract bugs equally (hornworms are the biggest problem- get some BT and spray or dust and you'll be fine). as for diseases, i tend to like the older types of open pollinated tomatoes because of the flavor and the issues of keeping old varieties going, so i don't plant a whole lot of hybrids. the hybrids, however, do tend to be easier, especially where diseases are concerned. one that i can wholeheartedly recommend is sungold cherry tomato. it is a hybrid, is quite disease resistant and the tomatoes are like candy. it'll give you lots and lots, too. your kids will love it. the nice thing about cherries is they are very carefree and they will bear faster and better with less than perfect conditions. it is indeterminate, which means it grows and bears the entire season, so you will need some form of sturdy support for it. i've not grown any better boys, but have heard that's a reliable beefsteak kind for our area. celebrity is another easy hybrid that does well and is typical tomato size. not sure about sungold, but celeb and BB will be available about everywhere in spring when the cell packs come out. it's a lot of fun to start maters from seed, too and they are easy enough for kids. just poke 1 seed each into a foam or plastic cup with holes poked in the bottom, water and set on a windowsill or under a lamp. they sprout quickly and grow fast. i'd wait a few more weeks before starting them- they really appreciate warm soil and will do better if planted out after may 1, even though you can plant as early as april 15th. we have such along season, that i've started plants around the 4th of july and had plenty of fruit to show for it by fall's end, so no rush at all.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 3:29PM
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What an interesting question.
I highly recommend jumping in on the tomatoes. Life is so much better with a homegrown tomato. They *can* get bugs, but of course they will be easy to spot and wipe off the fruit before you eat it.
I'd recommend to just decide on color and size toms you are interested in. NCTomatoman's website lists many that are good for NC. Sungold and Black Cherry are my fav cherry toms, and I won't even get started on the full sized toms. I started mine from seed this week, and will do more next week.

I have never seen bugs on my rosemary, and the rest should have minor bug problems, too.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 9:56PM
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deirdre - you mentioned tomatoes in containers so I might be able to help. I've grown tomatoes in EarthBoxes for the past six years - three plants to a box is the max, they get really big. And I've almost never had a bug issue with them. I say almost since last year I did have slugs munching on the leaves, but determined that they'd overwintered in the box and were coming up thru the openings in the cover (it wasn't the year for a soil renew) A bit of Sluggo around the plant bases took care of the problem. Outside of that, nary a problem in all these years. And I don't like bugs either - yuck!

My veggie gardening efforts are small so EarthBoxes serve the purpose well and this year, with our water restrictions and all, they'll be even more valuable.

Since the tomato plants get so large, I've had to get aggressively creative with supports - a web of tomato cages secured to in the ground uprights seems to work and I've been up to my eyebrows in tomatoes to the point where neighbors shun me lest I palm more off on them!

Take the plunge - grow tomatoes!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 10:27PM
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I've had a time with blister beetles and hornworms eating my tomatoes. But if you plant enough tomato plants you should still be able to get plenty of tomatoes without spraying. The problem is they're ugly.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 1:36PM
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surrealgarden(z7b NC Asheville)

I have planted tomatoes for the last two years and seen absolutely no beetles and no other pests. No spraying chemicals, no soap, no anything.

I took somebody's advice and planted FOUR O'CLOCK flowers in the general area. Bugs are drawn to the FOUR O'COLCKS, chew them and die. The flowers continue to look healthy while the tomatoes remain pest-free.

Just one reminder- make sure you want these flowers in the same place in the future, because they develop a tremendous root and are hard to get rid of later. I don't mind. It is an old fashioned plant that looks pretty and serves a purpose!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 1:28AM
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I had four o'clocks planted all around my tomatoes. It made no difference. Hornworms don't eat four o'clocks, and I don't remember if the blister beetles ate them, but blister beetles seek out poisonous plants such as milkweed. They must use what they eat as a protective mechanism, as they themselves are poisonous and secrete a blistering agent when disturbed. I saw lots of Japanese beetles feasting on the four o'clocks, so hopefully they died before they could lay eggs. (Is it really true that four o'clocks kill Japanese beetles?) The Japanese beetles especially loved Tammy's yellow four o'clocks. In June there was nothing left but stems and the skeletons of leaves.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 9:26AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

I plant my herbs and tomatoes together and have had very little problem with bugs. San Marzano was a wonderful variety for sauce, very prolific. Basil, marigolds, borage, monarda (bee balm) and tansy all grow in my tomato patch. The Japanese beetles seemed drawn to my pole beans, but not the tomatoes.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 3:37PM
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The Japanese beetles didn't eat my tomatoes either, and I was lucky enough last year that the roses had their first big flush before the beetles hatched out. The blister beetles mostly ate any tomatoes that were touching the ground. The hornworms ate the rest of the plant. I still got plenty of tomatoes, but the vegetable garden wasn't a pretty sight.

What makes me mad is that the blister beetles eat the swamp milkweed at its height of bloom. It's just beautiful and then overnight, there's just a skeleton of a plant. Oh well.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 6:56PM
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Tammy Kennedy

i guess i'm really luckty that i only see a few blister beetles during the season and they don't seem to do much damage. i normally see them on cosmos.

the jap beetles do love the yellow miribalis- no doubt. mine have never been eaten to stubs, though. i think they like yellow especially, because they love sundrops, too. i've never seen a single one on tomatoes- don't think that's really an issue. matter of fact, they don't bother any of my veggies. they do like fruit trees, though, and love my kiwi vines.

hornworms and slugs are the primary pests i have on maters, and mostly just the hornworms (and you're right- they don't eat 4 oclocks). the kids love finding them, so they look every day or 2. i think they like the challenge of finding something so well camouflaged. i watch, too and we normally catch them before they do too much damage. of course, we leave any that have ichneumon cocoons on them (they look like grains of rice). in addition to the solanum clan, i have seen hornworms on butterfly bush (huge ones) and sunflower, as well as brugmansia, so they do have diverse tastes. since there's a whole family of sphinx moths, i imagine each has it's host or several host plants. there's 2 or 3 species that will eat solanaceous plants. we flick them out on the road to be run over when we find them. little ones we'll sometimes feed to the turtles, tho i worry about the toxins in solan plant parts, so we don't overdo that. i know turtles can eat what are to us poisonous shrooms, and they love the small hornworms, so we just do it in moderation.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 10:37AM
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