Tomatoes vs. Whiteflies

My wife, a friend, and I are sharing in the “gardening” of two tomato plants this summer.  Gardening goes in quotes here, because we are all apartment dwellers and thus the tomatoes reside in a large pots sitting on one of our friend’s balconies.  Weeds are not prevalent.  Sun is plentiful.  The soil came out of a bag.  Under these conditions, tomatoes grow like the (friendly) weeds that they are.  The quotation marks are particularly important for my share of the gardening, which involves picking up the watering can, filling it in the sink, and then dumping it over the two tomato plants.  Done.  Now to dust off my hands, wipe my brow, and crack open a tasty adult beverage.

This is not to suggest that apartment-based gardening is without effort or hazard.  Evil little creatures called (as one might expect after seeing them) whiteflies, probably silverwing whiteflies, attacked one of our two potted tomato plants last year.  And yes, of course I’m anthropomorphizing the insects who put a dent in my summer tomato eating schedule.  I refuse to excuse their little black hearts by ascribing their destructive behavior to their natural lifecycle.  Anyway, the one they did attack had a short, tortured existence after the infestation really got going.  See, whiteflies are like tiny (~1 mm) plant vampires, sucking the sap from the underside of the plant’s leaves until the leaves start becoming pale and withering away.  As you might expect, this has a dramatic effect on the plant and in this case, reduced the tomato output (the only metric that really matters) by >90%.  The vampire simile breaks down after that:  Whiteflies are not immortal and do not respond to silver, stakes through the heart, running water, sunlight, crucifixes, or garlic.  They also don’t respond to most insecticides and quickly build up a tolerance to the insecticide used on them, like bacteria vs. an overused antibiotic.  There are lots of suggestions on how to control these agents of evil, but in our case, laziness may have been the largest contributing factor to this year’s success – planting late in the summer often means that the whiteflies have already moved on to look for other breeding grounds…and we planted in early July.

1 Response to “Tomatoes vs. Whiteflies”

  1. 1 Brianna
    08/07/2012 at 16:43

    I didn’t even think about the late planting contributing to our success this year – yay for laziness and living in a temperate climate!

    P.S. your name on the blog (msfairbanks) might cause people to think that you are Ms. Fairbanks – just a thought. 🙂

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