Also before I left town, I pulled up two tomato plants that were not thriving. The two were both Rutgers, which is normally my emergency backup, never-fail variety. Apparently, this gardening year is going to throw one curve after another at the veggie gardeners! When I pulled up the two plants, there didn't seem to be anything overtly wrong. The vascular system looked clean (not gunked up with fungus) and the roots were un-knotted (no root knot nematodes); the roots were not vigorous, though, and the plants weren't growing well. Since I don't know yet what went wrong, I planted sunflowers in the spaces those plants were pulled from.
I got back home on Tuesday evening and didn't have chance to do much more than take a quick look around the garden. Everything looked basically fine. But when I went around on Wednesday to check things out more closely, I saw that one tomato plant had been attacked by a pest:
The gaping holes and some black frass (poop) that had fallen onto some lower leaves were a huge give-away that the pest is one or more caterpillars, but I didn't see any at first. When I leaned across to the next plant, though, I found one:
This guy is very bad news. He/she is an armyworm, and like the squash vine borer and the Mexican bean beetles, this pest has made an early appearance. My copy of the book The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control contains this somewhat alarming sentence about these caterpillars:
Larvae can consume whole plants in 1 night.
Needless to say, I have a date with a little sprayer full of Bt (the bottle I have is called Thuricide), the organic-approved pest control substance for caterpillars.
Even worse, when I was looking at the tomato-neighbor to the damaged plant, the plant on which I found the armyworm, I found some of these brown lesions on the lower leaves:
It's a little faint in the photo, but the ringed brown spot indicates a disease called Early Blight, which means that this particular plant is a goner. Several leaves had similar lesions. After verifying the disease with my handbook (hoping that my first guess was wrong), I got out a pair of pruners and a big garbage bag so I could get this plant out of the garden.
The plant was big, and it already had nice big tomatoes on it - making the loss especially annoying - and it had to be cut up to be removed from the cage. Cutting through the stems was a revelation! The insides of all the stems were already completely brown, and the lower stem was mushy inside.
I haven't decided yet what to plant in the space from which the diseased plant was removed. It shouldn't be another tomato or tomato-family relative, but that leaves a lot of options open.
Happily, the biggest problem some of my plants have is that they are so overloaded with pretty flowers that they are falling over. Bee balm always reminds me of fireworks, but my husband thinks they look like Sideshow Bob, from The Simpsons.