I really have to be more on top of pests in my garden. I have three tomato plants growing in my garden right now: Stupice, Early Girl, and, to the best of my recollection, Aunt Ruby’s. Right now the plants are as large as I ever remember growing them in San Francisco. The middle plant is taller than I am. Early on in the life of the Stupice plant, I had noticed that the leaves were sort of sooty and drawn, and the plant didn’t look that happy.
I wasn’t sure right away what caused the damage. I guess I just didn’t see the aphids until they were pretty far along. They’re pretty small, and my eyes could be sharper. Aphids suck sap from plants and excrete a sweet syrup, called honeydew, that attracts ants and can feed a black sooty fungus, which is a telltale sign of their presence. They have a symbiotic relationship with ants that’s pretty fascinating.
Aphids are notoriously resilient, in part because they are born pregnant! And that’s just creepy.”
— Gayla Trail, You Grow Girl
I’ve noticed that they have only affected the Stupice plant. These three large tomato plants are coming into contact with each other because I never dreamed they would get this big, but so far the other two seem to be unaffected.
When I first cottoned to the aphids, I tried to spray the leaves with a little Safer soap that I had, carefully avoiding the fruit that had already formed. I did this a couple of times, then ran out of the soap. I read a tip in You Grow Girl (the book) that said to try mixing coffee grounds with one or more of a variety of plants that aphids don’t like: yarrow, tansy, pennyroyal, thyme, lavender, rue, catnip, and artemisia.
I have most of these growing in my garden, and have an abundance of mugwort, which is an artemisia. I blended up the mugwort with water, mixed it with a squirt of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, steeped it for a day and night, and strained it for a spray that I poured into the empty Safer spray bottle.
I also saw one ladybug, an aphid predators, and tried to avoid it with my soapy spray. I got a little frustrated with the spray mechanism, because even though I have a great strainer, I guess it wasn’t fine enough, so after a few days I wound up picking the aphids off with my soapy hands, strangely satisfying. I also read that aphids are attracted to the color yellow, so next time I plant tomatoes I’ll plant some calendula nearby.
I may be losing some flowers here and there, but still think this may be the largest tomato harvest I have ever had. I was just out there staking up more vines, and they are just going crazy. I’ve never grown Stupice or Aunt Ruby’s before, and the Stupice tomatoes are coming in so early I’ll definitely grow them again.
If you have any successful organic strategies that you’ve used with aphids, please share them here.