Tomato Pinworms

Erod1July 28, 2013

I found 3 or 4 small tomatos with pinhole sized holes near the stem part of the fruit so i started keeping an eye on them and then yesterday finally saw the culprit. It was a tiny tiny worm. It kind of reminded me of a tiny version of what you find in corn. This is happening on 2 of my plants. Now, im afraid to eat any of my fruit. Is the fruit safe to eat? Or do i just need to start spraying all my plants with BT? Im really afraid to eat any of them for fear of getting some parasite!



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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

We'll assume they are the pinworms, and I am assuming you found photos of pinworms and they match. If they don't match the photos of pinworms, they could be the earliest instars of tomato fruitworms, which are the same caterpillars known as corn earworms. Either way, spraying the plants with Bt should reduce their numbers but doesn't always eliminate all of them. Watch for the tell-tale folding of leaves, webbing and leaf miner type trails as all of those can indicate the tomato pinworms are present.They usually lay their eggs on the leaves, so check leaves near the infested fruit to see if you can find and remove other eggs before another bunch of them hatch.

It is safe to eat the fruit from plants infested with tomato pinworms. Tomato pinworms can be a pest on any plant in the solanacea family, but they are not a pest that infects humans.

Normally the pinworms enter the fruit at the calyx end of the tomato, although sometimes they eat into the fruit from other locations, so usually if you slice into a fruit with pinworm holes, you'll find the worms in the tomato flesh not too far from those holes. Usually they are in the core of the fruit near the pinholes. You can cut out any damaged portion of a fruit with the worms and eat the rest of the fruit.

Unfortunately, once you spot tomato pinworms, they can be hard to get rid of, as they can have up to 7 or 8 generations per year. So, once you've got them, you've got to be vigilant about controlling them. Spraying the plants regularly with Bt will help, but you also should remove all the folded foliage with webs and dispose of it. You can throw it in the trash or burn it, but don't compost it as the darned things can crawl away from a compost pile and survive over the winter and then reinfest your plants the next year.

I don't think it is that hard to get rid of tomato hornworms as long as you don't let them survive and overwinter. I've only had them 2 of the 15 years we've been here, and both years they only affected a plant or two and I just made sure to get rid of all that plant debris at the end of the season and didn't have them on my plants the next year.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 3:01PM
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Dawn, its either the pinworm or the fruitworm, that worm was soooo tiny its hard to match to any picture. I think im gonna email you some pics of the tomatos. I found damage on my giant beefsteaks. I think im so frustrated with these dam ( pardon my french) tomatos this year, im going to pull them all and be finished. Im just finished with it.

Bah humbug and its not even Christmas!!!


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 3:41PM
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Emma, year before last I did nothing about the tomato pin worm. It got to the point that I was losing about 90% of my crop. I pulled up my plants and burned them. I am having a lot of larger worms in my tomatoes now. I am about to the burn point again.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 4:01PM
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Larry, Its just sooo frustrating! I really wanted to see how those beefsteaks were gonna taste... I guess i could just leave the plants and see if i can get one good fruit off them. The one plant only has about 12 on it right now but is still blooming.

Larry, so pulling them and tossing them into the trash dumpster or pull them and throw in the firepit and burn?? Will they burn while they are green? Im sure i would get the most satisfaction from burning.

I probably should wait until im not so irritated about the whole darn thing. Dear lord, irritated and mad about tomato plants, what have i been reduced to???.

I emailed Dawn some photos, its just too hard to take the pics, transfer to the laptop, and post them.

Hopefully she can tell me what is what, however, whether it be pinworm or fruitworm, if i have to do a lot of work like spraying a lot, picking stuff off leaves, etc., im not doing it. I refuse. And next year, i will be driving to Dawns house weekly and picking her garden while she is gone. I will only take a small grocery sack of produce weekly Dawn, i promise. Just kidding. Im whacky, not crazy.........

The weather is lovely today though, i am happy about that.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 4:13PM
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Emma, it is very hard to burn green plants of any king. I nearly always have a burn pile growing, most often with building scrap and tree limbs. With a little diesel fuel and dry material you can burn a lot of tomato plants.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 6:04PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Em, I just sent a reply to your email, though I didn't attempt to ID the worms. A lot depends on their color, and I couldn't see color...just worm holes.

Regardless, no matter what kind of worms they are, the answer is to spray the plants with Caterpillar killer that contains Bt or with a broad-spectrum organic control like spinosad, or if you want to use a synthetic pesticide, find one labeled for caterpillars. Spray them and then just don't worry about them. If you still have worm issues in a couple of weeks, spray again. Otherwise, don't worry and fret over it. Life is too short to let the garden make you crazy.

Since it is almost impossible to burn green stuff if you don't have a pile of brown, dry plant material waiting to be burnt, just bag it up and tie the trash bags closed and throw them away. You cannot put the worm-infested plants in the compost pile because they could leave the pile and overwinter in the ground.

Do what I do in the summer (see the email for a long description of it), and spray with Bt and then ignore the plants. My garden is lucky if I do anything to it at all in July and August other than going out there to harvest the fruits and veggies. It is too hot to work very hard out there at this time of the year, and all I am really serious about is harvesting the good stuff and eating it or preserving it. Sometimes on a cool morning, I weed or mulch for a little while during the coolest part of the day. Most days, I turn on the hose to water containers. Other than that, I just don't exert a lot of energy during the hottest part of the summer. Gardens are full of pests in summer. It is the nature of the beast. I just don't worry about them.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 6:37PM
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I'm not familiar with BT. However, if you will spray your plants with Dipel every week it will pretty much take care of the pin worm problem.
I did this last fall and had no problems even though my plants were in a greenhouse right next to a greenhouse that had a very severe infestation

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 8:17PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Ponderpaul, Bt is the active ingredient in Dipel, so you've been using it all along.

Bt is Bacillus thuringiensis (a bacteria) and there are several strains of it. Each strain targets and kills a certain kind of pest.

Bt 'kurstaki', often abbreviated as 'Btk' is the Bt that kills caterpillars and it is the active ingredient in Dipel, Safer Caterpillar Killer, and in many other products sold as caterpillar or worm killers. I usually just refer to it as Bt because there are many brands of caterpillar pesticides with Bt available in various stores and all of them work equally well as long as they contain Bt 'kurstaki'. I usually see the Safer brand at big box stores, Dipel at nurseries and garden centers and a generic version merely labeled as Caterpillar Killer at TSC. Theirs usually is the Southern States brand.

Another popular form of Bt is Bt 'israelensis', which is the form of bacteria used in mosquito dunks, mosquito bits and other mosquito products that kill mosquitoes in water while they are in the larval stage. Bt 'israelensis' also is in some products like Gnatrol used to control soil fungus gnats.

Bt 'san diego' used to be the active ingredient in some pesticides that kill Colorado Potato Beetles like the one called Colorado Potato Beater, but a few years ago the manufacturer of Colorado Potato Beater replaced this form of Bt with Spinosad, which is a different biological killer derived from a different origin.

There is a Bta that beekeepers use to kill wax moths that infest their honeycombs, and there are other strains of Bt for other highly specialized uses.

For anyone not familiar with these, all of the mentioned items are organic products but the Bt products are more narrow in spectrum and rarely affect anything other than the targeted pest, while Spinosad is more of a broad-spectrum pesticide that affects many pests. Spinosad is the active ingredient in one of my favorite is a favorite merely because it has a catchy name "Captain Jack's Dead Bug Brew", which is a cute allusion to the fact that the active ingredients in Spinosad were discovered in the soil at a long-defunct rum distillery on a tropical island in a part of the world where pirates once roamed the seas.

The main drawback to using any product that contains Bt 'kurstaki' for caterpillar control is that it affects all caterpillars, including the good ones that produce butterflies and moths that most gardeners enjoy having around. So, if you use it, try to keep it off the flowers at which butterflies and moths will nectar and try to keep it off plants their young use for a food source.

I almost never use Bt 'kurstaki' for caterpillar control because I plant a lot of plants specfically for the butterflies and moths and don't want to harm them. I'd rather handpick the caterpillars when possible. However if f I had tomato pinworms on my tomato plants, I sure would spray it on the tomato plants because otherwise, the tomatoes will go to the pinworms and not to us. Pinworms are so tiny they'd be almost impossible to find and hand-pick.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 8:46PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Emma I have all sorts of worm holes in my tomatoes. I just pick them when they blush and cut out the bad places. I sense that you are repulsed by the worms. All they have eaten their whole life is your tomato - they aren't a danger to you.

It is frustrating. I don't use the bacterial sprays because Thuricide made me sick so I don't trust any of them. I did spray with pyrethrin and not sure it worked. It is hard to spray my jungle of grown together plants. I wouldn't pull your plants or pull the tomatoes off if they have a hole. Just harvest what you can.

This post was edited by helenh on Tue, Jul 30, 13 at 1:15

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 3:25PM
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Thanks Dawn, Helen, Larry, everyone.

Helen, i am only repulsed by the worms for fear of actually having worms myself...... Scared that if i eat a worm, i will end up like a goat and have a belly full of parasites. LOL!! I have some odd phobias.

Im almost positive it is the pinworm due to the size of the hole and the size of the worm i found. It was maybe 1/8th inch. Im positive of this because i am a quilter and i could sew a 1/4 inch seam in my sleep and it was about half that.

Ive had some good chats with Dawn and i wont be pulling the plants. Im just going to share them with all the other creatures and be thankful for whatever i get in return. I have a windowsill full of probably 20 right now, so i will be making a garden salsa tomorrow that will be gone by tomorrow night if my son finds out i have it.

Its a simple little recipe, but very addictive. I actually habe to brush my teeth to get the taste out or i will eat an entire quart in one sitting. It would almost make you think of a pico de gallo, but the flavor is much much different.

If anyone is interested in making it, let me know and i will post the recipe the best i can as i never measure anything when i cook, i just throw things in till it tastes right. Cooking is the one thing i excel at.

It is raining here again. Started about 10 or 10:30 with a light sprinkle. By looking at futurecast, i expect it to rain until about 1 or so. Everything is green and beautiful here.

Ive decided to have a proper garden next year and will be posting a new thread soon asking for advice so i can start working my ground and building my fences this fall.

I will warn in advance that i wil be asking, begging, etc to purchase seeds from anyone willing to part with them. I want to make sure i know exactly what i am getting as i will never willingly or knowingly grow a GM food.

Thanks to everyone for helping out a little gardner who knows a tiny bit about everything, but not enough to give it a proper go without all your help.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 1:12AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Let's address your worm phobia before you start having nightmares about eating tomatoes and waking up with a belly full of worms.

The kind of pinworms that infest tomato plants (and they are much more common in greenhouse plants than in field plants in most states) are the larvae of a small moth. They eat ONLY plants in the solanecea (tomato, eggplant, pepper, potato, etc.) family. They cannot live inside a human being. If you somehow managed to ingest one in a tomato, they would die in your digestive tract and pass out of your body with other waste materials. They are Keiferia lycopersicella (tomatoes are lycopersicums -- see how they are named after the plant family they infest?).

The kinds of pinworms that infest humans and other animals are small, thin white roundworms (nematodes) called Enterobius vermicularis. They live their entire life cycle in human's digestive tracts and couldn't survive on a tomato plant or in a tomato fruit.

So, when we are talking about tomato pinworms versus parasitic intestinal pinworms, we're talking apples and oranges.

I hope you won't let your phobia about intestinal parasites get inside your head and convince you that your beefsteak tomatoes will give you parasites. It isn't going to happen. Don't let those little tomato pinworms steal your joy. You have nurtured your tomato plants for months and you can enjoy the harvest from now until the first freeze hits. You've earned the right to eat and enjoy your yummy tomatoes. The pinworms are a tiny issue, and I hope you won't let them ruin your tomato dreams.

Harvest your fruit, slice into them and inspect them carefully. If you find pinworms, they almost always will be near the calyx end and you can cut off and discard that part of the tomato and eat the rest. If you spray your tomato plants regularly for the rest of the summer with a worm-killing product containing Bt, it should kill them when they are on the foliage and before they make their way into the fruit. You also can watch for the leaves that have them (watch for webs on folded-over leaves) and remove those leaves. There is no reason to sacrifice the plants or even the fruit. If you absolutely, positively cannot bear the thought of eating the current fruit (all of them may not be infested, you know), then you could strip all the fruit off the plants (I wouldn't, but if it makes you crazy to think of worms in them, then this is a drastic step to assure you that all the worm-infested tomatoes are gone), dispose of them however you see fit, and spray the plants with a Bt 'kurstaki' product following label directions. Spray the plants regularly for the next month or two in case the moths are still around laying eggs. New fruit will set when the temperatures allow, and you can be reasonably sure they will not be infested with pinworms.

Because the moths can lay eggs on all your plants, watch your other tomato plants for signs of the pinworms.

I've never had tomato pinworms on a plant I raised from seed myself, and both times that I have had them, it was on purchased plants where it is likely they were infested when they left the greenhouse. In both cases, I caught them really early. In my case, all I did was remove the fruit that actually had pinworm holes and dispose of them in the trash (not the compost pile), and I didn't even spray the plants. No other fruit were infested that year, not even on the exact plants from which I had removed infested fruit, so I was lucky and caught them early before they became widespread. I know that pinworms can overwinter in Texas, but I think our winters up here are normally too cold for them so they are not a persistent pests in most gardens here. The exception to that might be that if a plant is infested and is overwintered in a greenhouse, the pinworms might survive the winter.

I have faith in you. I believe you can overcome this phobia. I work way too hard in my garden to let any pest (except for the cougars in the cougar year, which is an extreme and an extremely rare example) keep my from eating the fruits of my labor, and I know that you do the same. Look at how hard you have worked to get your tomato plants this far....all that time, effort, money, watching them, worrying about them, watering them, feeding them, nurturing them. Now is your payoff time---and the payoff is tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. Oh, the joy of fresh home-grown tomatoes! There is nothing like it! Please don't let the pinworms ruin your payoff. You can persevere and win the battle and enjoy your delicious, flavor-filled home-grown tomatoes.

All too soon it will be winter and the incredible and delicious flavor of home-grown summer tomatoes will be a distant memory. We'll be counting the months, weeks and days until we can start seeds in 2014 and begin the next tomato season. Don't let the pinworms steal the best part of the 2013 tomato season from you!


    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 10:32AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

You need to start calling them tiny caterpillars because that is what they are. They are insects not worms. A device to unblock your drain is called a snake for the same reason people call caterpillars worms - only the shape is the same. If you remember biology class they aren't in the same phylum.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 6:24PM
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Emma, I would love the salsa recipe! As far as the caterpillars go, I am with Helen, a little added flavor doesn't hurt. My sister has Parkinson's we think was brought on by insecticide exposure, so I don't use much in the flower beds or garden. A little safe soap with sulfur has worked the best. Doesn't kill much but deters them. Way I look at it if it is healthy enough for a bug to try to eat it will be fine for my sister.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 6:39AM
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Moni, I will email it to you as best as I can, as I don't really measure anything. I would tell you that the lime ratio is the most important, but then really it's the garlic, no wait, it's the salt, or is it the cilantro.......

Helen, going back to biology is a real stretch for me. And I even had to look up the word phylum. I only really excelled in English,( even though you can't tell that by the way I type here..) although I did start that last sentence with a conjunction when I was taught not to, BUT, they now say you can. They also let kids spell phonetically these days and I have 3 kids aged 25-28 who can't spell. It's a tragedy.

I only have a few irrational phobias. Bugs, germs, and pouring boiling water in the sink when I'm draining something just cooked. I have to turn the cold water on because I'm afraid it will melt my pipes....... Oh, there are many more, but I don't want to come off as tooooo weird so I will leave it at that.

I haven't found any more pinholes in my tomatoes and hope I don't, but I'm going to let them ripen and cut them and inspect them and if I don't see any worm in the tomato, it will be eaten.


    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 11:26PM
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