Oh the trouble we’ve had with stink bugs in the garden and orchard this year! We’ve received loads of calls and e-mails about these pesky bugs but especially in the last month or so.
Why? Because it’s tomato season and it seems that these nasty creatures are as fond of America’s favorite garden crop as we are. All over the country, tomatoes are being ruined by stink bugs – and it’s not just the imported brown marmorated stink bug I’ve talked about before; there are native species as well that are sucking the life out of our tomatoes.
The green stink bug (Acrosternum hilare), a native of the United States, just loves tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables as well. I haven’t noticed this one in my gardens but I imagine it is around. I have noticed the brown marmorated stink bug on my apples and on various vegetables in my garden.
The green stink bug came to my attention a few weeks ago when Sue, a listener from Cold Spring, NY, called Mark on his “Easy Gardening” radio show with a question about some “ugly bugs” on her tomato plants. She said these bugs were just devastating her tomatoes, making the fruit inedible. These “ugly bugs” turned out to be a green stink bug nymph – probably the last instar before the adult stage. Sue sent us some “graphic” photos a few days later which confirmed the identification.
Stink bugs physically damage tomatoes (and many other fruits) by piercing the skin with their needle-like proboscis, injecting a digestive enzyme which liquefies the tomato pulp, and then sucking up this juice.
The process leaves dimples and blotches on the tomato surface and creates a whitish corky area below the skin. If it’s not too extensive, the damaged portions can usually be cut out but some say that the taste of the tomato is altered in a negative way. In addition to this physical damage, stink bugs can transmit disease pathogens to the fruit when they feed causing them to decay at a faster rate.
Stink bugs don’t always cause as much damage to the fruit as they did on Sue’s tomatoes. She was plagued by huge numbers of them in her garden and the tomatoes were truly ruined. Typically, stink bugs will target only one or two tomato varieties in the garden, not all. This provides support for the recommendation that you should always grow more than one or two tomato varieties in your garden. One each of at least 6 different varieties is a good start. Insect and disease problems (even weather related problems) affect different varieties in different ways; some are more susceptible than others to certain pests, diseases, and weather conditions. The more variety you have in your garden the more likely you are to have something that will flourish no matter what the season brings!
What can we do?
- As I mentioned in my last post, keeping your garden free of weeds will go a long way towards keeping it pest free. These pests rely on a heavy cover of foliage to hide from predators, lay their eggs, and feed. By eliminating the weeds, you eliminate this refuge.
- Planting what are called “trap crops” can also help by diverting the stink bugs to those plants rather than your vegetable crops. Some suggestions include mustards, millet, and sunflowers (they seem to be attracted to the color yellow).
Encourage natural predators like the praying mantis to live in your garden by placing their egg cases which are often found attached to the stems of plants in the garden.
- Hand picking is always an eco-friendly option; just carry a bucket of soapy water around with you to drop them in.
- PureSpray Green is OMRI listed and can be sprayed on vegetable crops as well as ornamentals to help control stink bugs. Control is more successful on the young nymphs than on the adult stage. Always apply according to the label directions.
I can definitely sympathize with Sue. It’s very disheartening when you put so much effort into your vegetable garden, keeping it weeded, watered, and fertilized; nurturing the your plants along so they will bear beautiful fruits and vegetables only to have all your work come to nothing when some devastating pest or disease takes the whole thing away.
Between our woodchuck, the deer, and the downy mildew in our own garden this year, our harvest has really suffered. The woodchuck actually took up residence in the “three sisters garden” digging a deep burrow under one of the corn mounds! When he began to eat the winter squash, we knew it was time to harvest!
After a record harvest last year, I didn’t even have enough cucumbers to make a single batch of pickles this year! I am so surprised that the deer would actually eat cucumber leaves, they’re so spiny, but until we managed to keep them out with a 7-foot fence of wildlife netting (on top of our existing fence), they would come in every night and browse on my cucumber leaves and also on our pole beans! Fascinating but very discouraging to a gardener!
I hope Sue has better luck with her tomatoes next year and hopefully she has some friends that will share some fresh garden tomatoes with her this year. There is nothing better!
Until next time – Happy Gardening!