Jennifer StackhouseTomatoes

We have started harvesting our tomatoes. It’s a lovely feeling to see them sitting there red and glowing in my fruit bowl waiting to be popped on a sandwich or tossed in a salad.

Sadly, they’ll be tossed in a salad of bought lettuce as the rabbit squeezed into the vegie garden and devoured all my lettuce and salad greens.

Tomatoes in the garden

These tomatoes however were planted in the garden rather than the vegie plot. So far they’ve not only evaded ‘wascally wabbits’, but they’ve also avoided the dreaded fruit fly.

I don’t take chances with fruit fly and, if you are living in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory or Western Australia, neither should you. Fruit flies are a very real menace for any soft fruits growing through spring, summer and into autumn.

Along the east coast we have the Queensland fruit Fly, a native pest, but in Western Australia it’s the Mediterranean fruit fly (the Medfly), which is the pest and it’s also found in many other parts of the world.

Green tomato with tomato dust

Female fruit flies lay their eggs in the skins of soft fruits such as tomatoes. The eggs hatch as maggots (small white grubs) that feed in the fruit. As they feed, the fruit rots and if it is not disposed of, it falls to the ground where the maggots finish their life cycle to emerge as adults and continue the assault on our crops.

Painting the chemical lure on a stake

 

 

 

 

Controls in the past were mandatory and involved chemicals such as Rogor and Lebaycid. The removal of these products from the home garden market however has made room for other approaches to fruit fly control.

I am using a chemical lure called Eco-Naturalure to keep the fruit fly away from my tomatoes. I mix up the bait then paint it on stakes in the tomato bed. To protect it from the weather, I pop a container over the top of the stake.

The bait needs to be reapplied frequently particularly after rain or a heavy watering. This is not a ‘set and forget’ control method.

Cover the stake with a container to protect the lure

Baits and lures to control fruit fly have been around for a long time, but the newer baits are different. Old style Dak.Pots and Eco-Lure Fruit Fly Traps, for example, attract male fruit fly. They use pheromones to do this. They are useful to monitor for the presence of fruit flies and offer some control.

Eco-Natralure fruit fly bait

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Naturalure (click here for more information on this product) however targets female fruit flies with a mixture of protein attractants and insecticide. Another product that works this way is Nature’s Way Fruit Fly Control from Yates.

To keep these lures low toxic and organic the insecticide in them is spinosad, which is based on naturally occurring soil bacteria. The baits are very clever and their success relies on knowledge of how the female fruit fly’s life cycle works. They require a protein feed before egg laying. The bait contains proteins and sugars that attract the female fruit fly, who then takes in the insecticide as she feeds ensuring she dies before laying any eggs.

As a back up I also have exclusion bags that can fit over trusses of fruit. These allow the fruit to ripen, but keep out the bugs. The exclusion bags I use came from Green Harvest.

They’ll deter birds too – well, most birds. One year I did witness a large crow open an exclusion bag and feast on some particularly large red tomatoes that I was on the way to the vegie garden to harvest. He perched on the top of the tomato stake and had a jolly good feed!

Ripe tomatoes

If all else fails, pick your fruit as soon as it begins to colour with a small piece of stem attached. Bring it indoors to ripen out of reach of fruit fly and birds. But if you do get fruit fly in your fruit make sure you pick up all the affected fruit, put in a bag – a plastic bag – and let it stew in the sun for a few days to kill the larvae. Then bury it or put it in the rubbish bin (not the compost heap).

This way you’ll help break the life cycle and reduce the numbers of this particularly irksome pest.

Unfortunately fruit fly lures don’t work on rabbits so I am headed back out to my vegie patch to see just where the rabbit got in last night and to add more wire and stakes to the perimeter to keep him and his friends and relations away from my new lettuce plants.

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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

11 thoughts on “Tomatoes

  1. A crow opening an exclusion bag! Goodness they are the smartest of birds I think. What varieties of tomatoes do you find most successful?

  2. Thanks for the post Jennifer. Have given up growing anything but the tommy tomatoes due to so many losses to fruit fly and other vermin. I have tried many varieties and the ones that prevail are the ones that spring from seed in soil from the compost. Strong and wild, I guess.

  3. Jennifer Stackhouse on said:

    Yes, without a doubt, the self-sown cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow and most prolific. They tend to have small fruit with tough skins that’s rarely attacked by fruit fly. But I love the challenge of growing a big tasty tomato like Beefsteak!

  4. Victoria on said:

    Thanks Jennifer, it’s great to learn how these different control methods actually work. I often find that product labels are too basic as I like to understand something before I use it. I am keen to try Naturelure. When should I begin using it?
    My tomatoes are mostly in flower with only a few fruits that are still quite small and green.

    • Jennifer Stackhouse on said:

      Once the fruit is fully formed but still green you should start applying the bait. Reapply regularly particularly if it rains.
      Since harvesting my first fruit and posting this blog, I’ve found another ‘pest’ who is partial to our tomatoes. Our local blue tongue lizard has eaten the lower fruit. So we’ve harvested lots of the fruit that’s beginning to ripen and brought it indoors out of his reach.
      Jennifer

      • Victoria on said:

        Thanks Jennifer….I also noticed a few catterpillars eating my green tomatoes too so will spray with some Dipel ASAP.

        • Jennifer Stackhouse on said:

          The caterpillars tend to burrow into the top of the fruit leaving large holes. Dipel may not work as the caterpillars need to consume it for it to do its damage. But certainly worth a try.
          Jennifer

  5. Alex Williams on said:

    I have not had any problem in past years with my tomatoes. this year they are being eaten from what appears to be the inside out, often till there is just a shell of skin. It happens to ripe or near ripe fruit and all I can see is some miniscule bug, generally only a few that would be half the size of a pinhead coloured black or very dark brown. Any idea what they may be or how to combat them. I am about 20km NE of Walpole W.A.
    Alex

    • It is most likely that your tomatoes are being eaten out by a nocturnal predator such as a rat or possum and the small insect you are finding inside the skin is just enjoying a free feed. The insect pests may be earwigs (identified by the pincers on their rear end) or some type of bug such as Rutherglen bug or green vegetable bug. All that can be done to protect the fruit is to cover the undamaged tomatoes with netting or the individual clusters with an exclusion bag. Alternatively pick the tomatoes while they are under ripe and ripen them indoors. Pick each fruit with a bit of stem attached. Jennifer

      • Alex Williams on said:

        Thanks Jennifer, I did lose a complete Peach trees yield to a rat one year but i think this is unlikely as between the Mardos (carnivorous native rodents that eat micelings and such) and two Maltese shiatsu cross dogs I think it is unlikely. The patch is bird wired and bird netted from ground up and no apparent burrowing.
        I will try to look closely at the bugs but as you say with so few they would have to be the size of peas or grapes after eating so much tomato so quick.

        Alex

        • Alex Williams on said:

          OK, since my last response, whilst I have yet to magnify and identify the minuscule bugs, I think I have established the main culprit. Juvenile Silver-eyes (Zosterops-lateralis) these are one of the few birds that manage to squeeze through the netting but once gorged, in this case on my Tomatoes don’t always seem to be able to squeeze back out. Thanks for your help Jennifer and you were close, a rodent with wings.

          cheers

          Alex

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