Bug Battles: What’s Eating My Tomatillos?


July 11, 2014

The first year I grew tomatillos, I had one plant. The weather was awful. I finally got a couple of handfuls of ripe ones right before the early frost, but not enough for canning salsa. The next year, I planted six of them. I got wheelbarrow loads of tomatillo fruits! The weather wasn’t necessarily better, but cross-pollination makes them exceptionally prolific.

Unfortunately, some tiny larvae made pinhole tunnels in 99% of the harvest. It was a total loss!

Over the winter, I tried to discover what happened to my mother-load of tomatillos. Years have passed, and I still have no clue. The closest resolution I can find is tomato pinworms, but they’re bigger than whatever does this to my crop.

A friend of mine, an inspector at the Dept. of AG Plant and Disease, offered to test a specimen at the lab for me. But the results were inconclusive because all we ever found were tunnels; no perp.

Whats eating my tomatillos

When I planted the tomatillos again, something, of course, started eating the leaves. I was more worried about fruit, and there was a lot developing amid the hundreds of yellow flowers. But the larvae on the leaves were far too fat to make the tunnels.

They did, however, enter the pouches through the tip and tear big holes in the tomatillos. And whatever minuscule varmint was making the tiny tunnels was in there doing the deed right along with those striped things.

It was time to kill everything that moved on my tomatillo plant, with the exception of the bees! I didn’t want to use chemicals, but soapy water wasn’t doing the trick.

Bug battles

In year three of my tomatillo battle, some leaf-eating bugs moved in again. Those were easily identified as three-striped potato beetles (more orange than a three-striped cucumber beetle). I armed myself with organic AzaSol, which will control all kinds of plant pests.

Of course, every time I sprayed, rain fell soon after, sometimes before the stuff could even dry. Fine. I resorted to smashing them. Bugs, eggs… everything but the bees.

Between my murderous frenzy and AzaSol (you can’t find them all once the plants are thick and huge), I finally succeeded in getting enough undamaged tomatillos to make that roasted salsa and green sauce. It only took four years!

Do you know what makes these pinhole tunnels?

The entry and exit are between a pinprick and a pinhead wide, many so unnoticeable the tomatillo looks fine until you cut it in half. Many don’t have any holes in the husk either.

The creatures tunnel straight through. Nothing is left behind. It’s a clean, precise passage. They never wander around. After making the tunnel, it moves onto a fresh one and repeats the process. And then it disappears.

You would think you could clean it up and use part of the fruit for instant cooking, but like an apple, it turns the inside of the tomatillo brown from exposure to air. There are no other visible exterior signs of rot or damage. The only bugs on the plants are these potato beetles.

Do you have the answer? Can you solve this maddening riddle? PLEASE SHARE!

Last updated by Catherine Sherriffs on 06/19/2020.



Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.

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