The plants I was most looking forward to growing this season were my tomato plants. At my previous property I'd had the constant battle with psyllids so I was hopeful when I purchased my new home at the end of May that I might be successful in growing all those delicious tomato varieties this summer. Unfortunately, it looks like the pests are back.
In a nutshell psyllids are sap suckers. They can and will suck the life out of your plants. As soon as the temperatures warm up they seem to arrive. I know these little guys all too well. One of the first things I notice from a distance is the trusses of the plant starting to point towards the ground. Still looking strong - not wilting, but there's nothing natural looking about it. As you get closer you'll notice the pesky insects. They're about the size of an aphid, black body, and have clear little wings. They have a couple of little white stripes across their backs. You'd have to look really hard though and they're quick to fly away when you disturb them. Unfortunately, I've even noticed the white stripes now so I'm positive it's psyllids now. You'll also see the crystal like psyllid sugar secretions on the stem and branches too. They've been in NZ since 2006, but until a couple of years ago I'd never even seen them.
After doing a bit more reading there seems to be a few options to consider -
1. Use Neem oil.
2. Koanga has a psyllid solution. It's a finally ground, water soluble version of diatamaceous earth and is applied as a foliar spray.
3. Yates Success Ultra Insect Control Concentrate or Yates Nature’s Way Citrus, Veggie, and Ornament Spray. From what I can read anything that would treat other sap sucking insects is a starting point, but there’s still little research or specific products for these guys.
4. Ditch the tomato plants and use the space to grow something else.
5. Use horticulture netting. This is basically useless in my opinion though. By the time you actually discover psyllids it's already too late for that as you'll only end up trapping them in there and creating them the perfect home. You’d have to do it from having young seedlings at the start of the season. Too late for me now.
My preferred option is to keep the garden as natural as possible. I'm personally not a big fan of chemicals unless really necessary. I used the Koanga solution last time and had some success, but probably left it too late. This time I’m going to give the Neem a go, as well as Yates Nature’s Way product.
It's tempting to just ditch the tomatoes in the respect that battling the psyllids becomes both time consuming and expensive for the crop you end up getting. At the same time I've planted a variety of plants and would love to get at least a few off each plant.
We'd planted the following varieties this year - San Marzano, Oxheart, Money Maker, Russian Red, Cherokee Purple, Super Steak, Black Krim, Grosse Lisse, Rapunzel, Brandywine Pink, Roma, a black cherry tomato and a couple of yellow cherry tomatoes. The dream of fresh homemade pizza and pasta sauces were real. Interestingly enough, the Brandywine Pink plant seems to be the only untouched plant in the raised vegetable garden where the other seven plants are.
The psyllids will attack any of your nightshade plants. Zebra chipped potatoes is another thing to look out for so I'll probably pull my potatoes out a little earlier than planned. Sometimes you've just got to go with your micro climate instead of fighting it so it may mean planting potatoes at cooler times of the year. We're lucky in Northland in that we can almost grow them year round.
Because we don't need the extra garden space I'm tempted to look at it as a bit of an experiment. We have so much else growing in our garden so even if our tomato plants are destroyed we still have a successful season ahead of us. No point in getting hung up on these things. You just have to roll with it.
One thing I have made sure I do is keep on top of pinching out the laterals and staking the tomatoes so they're easily to manage if I do have to continue to treat them. All a bit of a learning curve in an attempt to save the summer crops for now. Something else I'm giving a go this year is planting basil plants that we grew from seed around the edge of the tomato garden. They're really thriving so if nothing else we'll have decent pesto this summer haha.
If anyone has any other suggestions of how to deal with these pests I’d happily listen to the advice. It looks like with our warm Northland temperatures and humidity this is only going to become a more common problem for those of us wanting to grow summer tomatoes and new Christmas potatoes.