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hannahsugs's avatar

What's eating the tomatoes off my plant, and how do I stop it?

Asked by hannahsugs (3233 points ) June 10th, 2010

ARGH! I’m trying to grow tomatoes for the first time, and I have 3 plants in pots on my deck. I was SO excited because the first large tomato was getting ready to pick, and I walk out this morning to give the plants water and more than half the tomato is gone! Something clearly came and took several large bites out of the tomato. This is the second time this has happened, although the first time it was less clear that it was a bite, I thought the fruit was maybe just damaged.

What’s eating them, and how do I stop it? I’m thinking maybe a raccoon? Would anything else do this? I don’t think we have squirrels here, I’ve never seen any. Would a motion-sensitive light work to deter the animal? Any other techniques?

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23 Answers

partyparty's avatar

Could it perhaps be slugs or snails? I know they love anything like that.
Try putting sand or grit around your pots.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@hannahsugs
I remember in Vermont there was a surly ground hog that loved to take one or two big bites from the bottom. Until I got out the 30–30 rifle( only one with ammo ), no neighbors for miles. No more tomatoes half eaten.

JLeslie's avatar

Can you put up a little fence or barbed wire around it?

kenmc's avatar

I would guess that it’s a tomato worm. They’re large, caterpillar-looking things that are green. Kill them however you see fit; squish them, squash them, you can even severe there heads off like my dad does.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

How large are the bites and what do the edges of the bites look like? Any teeth marks? If the edges off the tomato are smooth with no clear bite marks, I lean toward the tomato worm, but they’re large enough you should notice them on a container. How big was the tomato?

GeorgeGee's avatar

All manner of critters will help themselves to a ripe tomato, including deer and squirrels. It is NOT likely tomato hornworms however, as they prefer the leaves to the fruit. If it’s dry out, Birds will also peck at a tomato for water.Chicken wire or netting should solve your problem.

kenmc's avatar

@GeorgeGee I’ve witnessed many tomato worms eating the fruit as well as the leaves.

perspicacious's avatar

Rabbits like to nibble in gardens.

syz's avatar

In my neck of the woods (NC), the birds eat my ripe tomatoes.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

How big are the pots and how far off the ground are the tomatos?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Shhhhhhh… Be vawy vawy kwyyet. I’m hunteene WABBITS!

hannahsugs's avatar

I don’t think it’s a worm or a slug, because yesterday the tomato (about the size of an average apple) was intact, and today it was 70% gone. It was definitely something that ate it fast, and a lot. The pots are on a deck that’s about 2 feet off the ground. They are not huge pots, maybe like 2 gallon? I’m just estimating, they’re about a foot or so tall, if that helps.

Birds might be the problem, i know that a lot of them hang out behind my house. Could they do so much damage in just one day? Other than these pots, I really have NO garden, the rest of the backyard is just hard-packed sandy dirt (I live in the desert, afterall). I’m also in a very central area of the city, in a densely packed residential area, so I doubt it’s deer. I haven’t heard of rabbits being around here, but I suppose its possible. But again, I have NO other garden whatsoever. If it’s birds, could I appease them by putting out a bird feeder and birdbath? I’d rather not get into fencing or chicken wire if I don’t have to, that’s a bigger project than I have in mind.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Probably rabbits or some such. Birds generally feed during the day and raccoons will take the entire tomato. If I notice this happening in the vegetable patches, I start sitting out at night with a .22 rifle with night vision scope. The culprit is usually eliminated after one or two nights.

hannahsugs's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land: i didn’t go out to water the plants until around 10:30 AM, so could birds have gotten it during the morning hours? I definitely hear them chirping outside my window starting early, and it’s so hot here that I don’t think they stay active in the middle of the day. Also, sorry, but violence isn’t really my thing, I don’t have any weapons in the house, and I wouldn’t be likely to use them if I did, so I don’t think I’ll take that tactic.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@hannahsugs My crops are income to me. Eliminating pests is the same as correcting a soil mineral deficiency as far as I’m concerned. I’m an organic farmer, I’d rather the pests die from a clean rifle shot than poisons or traps.

You could try putting netting over the plants so birds can’t get to them. It won’t stop rabbits though. I don’t like shooting birds, since they are good insect eaters.

sarahsugs's avatar

(Hi Hannah!) This happened to me last summer with my heirlooms and I am positive it was a squirrel. The same squirrel, in fact, who ate my first ripe strawberry this May. One time I even caught him at it. Arg. While violence isn’t my thing either, I have to admit that whenever I see that sucker I want to chuck things at him. This year I am planning to throw some nylon netting (the kind they sell at nurseries to throw over berry plants to protect them from birds) over the whole shebang and see if that works.

Interestingly, the squirrel(s) had no interest in my cherry tomatoes, only the big ones. Perhaps they thought cherries weren’t worth the effort? In any case, if you can’t stop your big ones from being eaten, it’s not too late to plant cherry tomatoes! I recommend Sweet 100.

Xilas's avatar

if its insects eating your plants, put lady bugs in and around your plants, they kill the bad bugs

Scooby's avatar

I’m going along with @partyparty

hannahsugs's avatar

Well, after finding TWO MORE of my tomatoes eaten this evening (ARGH!) i ran out and bought some netting, instead of getting started on homework (one has to keep one’s priorities straight afterall ;) ). I’ve never actually seen a squirrel here in Tucson, although they could be sneaky little buggers. Birds though, we’ve got lots of birds. Hopefully the netting keeps whatever it is from eating anymore!

(Hi Sarah!) One of the pots is cherry tomatoes, and it’s actually the most robust at the moment, with the most little green tomatoes on it. No animals have gotten to it yet, so here’s hoping!

GeorgeGee's avatar

@Xilas, ladybugs won’t defend against anything big enough to take a bite out of a tomato! They’re great defense against aphids though.

cheerytomato's avatar

I just asked exactly the same question and read all your answers. My cherry tomatoes are fine, too. But this year is the first year anything is eating exactly half of our huge tomatoes as soon as they’re nearly ripe. It is also the first year we have a woodchuck/groundhog in our yard. I’ve seen him eating the wild flowers in the yard, but we have raised beds and I haven’t seen him actually climb into the garden, yet! The squirrels generally only take a small bite and go. I’m watching to see if it’s a tomato worm monster of some sort or the woodchuck.

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alexiswarrington123's avatar

AMAZING!!! i have no clue or eles i would help!

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