Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Gardening >
Aug 31, 2010 01:15 PM

Tomato fruit eating critter

I noticed two days ago that one of my tomatoes was partly eaten. I set a haveaheart trap with the partly eaten tomato. The next day the trap was not set off, but the bait was eaten. Next, I set the trap with a milkbone and chicken bone. Today the trap was set off, and the bones moved to one side of the trap. I noticed today, all my tomato fruits were eaten, even the fairly high fruit. About 8 tomatoes were eaten in total. At the same time, the critter hasn't touched my yellow squash.

I feel conflicted, my first thought is to just give up, whatever is eating my tomatoes has more right to the land than I do. Growing food, even in a small garden inevitably conflicts with nature. To grow a garden is deny the animals. At the same time, whatever is eating my tomatoes much prefers tomato fruits to local weeds.

My dad said he smelled skunk last nite. Do skunks eat tomatoes? I've been putting lots of chicken bones and other compost into my compost pile. I think the compost pile may be drawing critters.

Part of me wants to cover the compost pile with lots of hay and grass clippings. Next, I want to cut down more trees and bushes to chase away the wild life. I'm still doing more for the environment than my neighbors who all have golf course mowed lawns.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Have you tried fencing off your garden? A local opossum loves to eat my tomatoes, and this has stopped it. It can eat bugs, worms, and other stuff it finds, but the tomatoes are mine.

    Personally, I wouldn't recommend putting meat or bones in your compost pile. It isn't a good idea.

    5 Replies
    1. re: raytamsgv

      I definitely agree re the bone and meat stuff in compost, the bone won't break down and the meat will attract critters. Bone meal, on the other hand is a good addition. Grass clippings don't work well unless you mix it in pretty well when you add it, it otherwise just sorta mats up.

      Skunks are pretty much opportunist, what they find they will eat, bugs, eggs, delicious fruits but they pretty much stay ground level, so reaching up for something is not as common, Now raccoons, a whole other story.

      Fencing in a garden is a great idea, and ultimately the one that will work the best.

      1. re: Quine

        Hmmm, what should I do with chicken bones if I don't throw in the compost? Chicken is one of the cheapest forms of meat, so I'm not giving up chicken any time soon.

        I'm starting to re-think my compost idea and just buy compost. I bought a 40 ib bag of manure and humus Garden Pro brand compost from Lowes. I Just poured the contents onto a recently double digged bed. The compost is all gray now that its dried out though, compared to my brown earthy looking clay soil.

        "Fencing in a garden is a great idea, and ultimately the one that will work the best." I plan to take down an old fence and put the fence on its side. Four legged creatures hate horizontal fencing.

        1. re: Bottomless_Pit

          Sometimes garbage is just garbage, I honestly throw them out, re the bones, but often they are so cooked out, stock/soup etc, they are just useless to anything. Tho' ya never know. My Mom has the Pine barrens at her back door, so she leaves her kitchen scrapes like this at the edge and they are usually gone by next day. One day I went out to check and saw a tortoise, happy crunching away one liked it was just a potato chip!

          Just remember Gardening is nothing more than just a constant compromise/negotiation with Mother Nature. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield.

          Since our habitat has overtaken alot of nature's habitat, things we do to help replace are not only helpful but needed. Bees and butterflies besides birds and such, very much need all the gardening we can do. Mom's neighbor grows pots of parsley each year, not so she can use it, but because each year Monarch butterflies return and hatch out new ones there.

          1. re: Bottomless_Pit

            I use a plastic wire mesh (1 inch squares) that I bought at the local big box hardware store (located in the fencing aisle). I attached it to my existing fence with garden twist ties and UV-resistant plastic ties. That might be less work than digging up your existing fence.

      2. I agree with raytamsgv... meat and bones do not belong in a compost pile. Only vegetation i.e leaves, weeds, kitchen veggie waste, grass and garden clippings, etc. A 3+ foot high chicken wire fence might deter critters. This morning I saw a male cardinal (bird) eating my cherry tomatoes...And I thought they were seed eaters.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          I agree, no meat or bones in the compost pile. I'm careful about the use of bone meal since I have had young seedlings ripped out and suspect a critter was attracted by the bone meal which I had scratched into the soil before seeding. Each time I add kitchen waste to the compost pile I add a layer of grass clippings or chopped leaves. Whatever my husband has piled up for me. This morning I noticed my dwindling row of new bean plants had been cropped. I know some critter is feasting on yellow tomatoes but ignoring the multitude of cherry tomatoes. I've seen crows pecking small apples off the wild tree at the edge of the woods. My husband has not seen evidence of any woodchucks but we've seen skunks, porcupines, coyotes, etc. We think racoons and bears are enjoying the farmer's corn field and leaving our garden mostly alone.

          I disagree with the statement about gardens conflicting with nature. Blossoms attract a variety of bugs. Birds sit on my pea fence and watch for yummy things. Fish and Game told us that using the tractor attracts coyotes because they know it kicks up voles and insects for lunch. Goldfinches and other birds use my bird bath and feast on the seed heads in my flower garden and weed patch. I grow scarlet runner beans to attract hummingbirds. I figure I'm going to lose part of my garden produce to disease, bugs and critters but I still have enough to give away to friends. I may be luckier than some to have a big enough garden. During this unnaturally hot and dry summer, I've found frogs in my garden and also one who spends some time in the bird bath.
          I don't know why one row of beans has been devastated and another nearby row not touched at all. Perhaps one row is better protected by rampant squash vines and hearty parsnips leaves. Striped cucumber beetles killed early plantings of yellow summer squash but didn't bother costata romanesque zucchini.
          Better luck on next year's garden. I've just purchased some blueberry plants and I know I will have to put nets over them or not get any berries at all.

          1. re: dfrostnh

            Your first paragraph had me laughing. I live in suburbia. Large lot, 6'fencing all around, neighbors on 3 sides. We have possums, wood chucks, racoons, wild turkeys, hares, squirrels and chipmunks. Lately the new kids on the block are coyotes and a family of red foxes...not to mention various raptors. I have greatly reduced the vegetables I now grow thinking any day now we're going to see deer. When the garden was in full growth I used plant certain flowers which attracted beneficial insects.

            In reference to those chicken bones: Forget the skunks, you are going to attract rats if you continue to put them into your compost heap. BTW: I hope that compost is enclosed!.

            1. re: Gio

              Closed compost, I didn't even know closed compost existed? No I just put the compost in my unused raised garden beds with nothing covering. That way as the compost gradually decomposes the nutrients go into the soil, rather than having to transport the compost. I put about 3 birds , 2 chickens and one turkey worth of bones last time in a raised bed.

              I really don't want to spend the money on a commercial composter. gardening is a time intensive and expensive hobby. I spent nearly $100 on gardening since May!

              1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                If you're spreading fresh composting material directly on your garden beds/rows the material is actually *taking away* the nutrients meant for your plants in order to break down. Closed composters allow the materials to attain the very high temperature that's absolutely necessary for the material to biodegrade and kill objectionable weeds in the process. There are many different commercial composters made for the home gardener for various prices. Our town's public works department sells composters for $25.00...

                Additionally, animal products do not go into a compost heap. Only green, brown and wet materials.

                1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                  You must have a very large land mass on which to have an open compost pile without your neighbors ousting you from the neighborhood!

            2. re: Gio

              gio, yesterday, i saw a young male cardinal pulling off french thyme leaves and eating them!

              1. re: alkapal

                The cardinal as gastronome. Of course, since you're a Chowhound Alka!

                1. re: Gio

                  we teach our birds the right way. ;-).

              2. re: Gio

                I had a nice-looking string of pearls plant that a cardinal denuded.

              3. Do you have squirrels? They are notorious for eating parts of tomatoes although usually will not go after a partly eaten tomato. Fencing will not help with squirrels as they use any size mesh as a ladder.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                  Yes, lots and lots of squirrels, I see them in the garden all the time. I notice whenever I plant seeds, about 6-10 squirrels seem to stay in the area for the next 24 hours. I thought squirrels only ate meat and nuts.

                  1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                    O good grief!!! You don't know about the Famous Squirrel Wars?!??! Winner still undetermined, battles being raised across birdfeeders around the globe. Check out this video:


                    Short, squirrels loves seeds.

                    Compost works better and faster if aerated and periodically mixed. Bones really don't compost. Never saw Dinosaurs, or prehistoric bones before? Here are a few websites that can give some ideas.:

           (the better of these



                    (Edit: For typo)

                    1. re: Quine

                      I read the links on composting good info, I'm starting to feel confident about composting now that I've read about 10 or so articles about composting from various sites. I was in my garden and some of the squash plants seem to be missing. My garden looks less full and my dill herb was eating almost to the roots.

                      As for the squirrels, I guess I'll have to plant some sunflower plants so there is enough food for everyone.

                    2. re: Bottomless_Pit

                      Squirrels are NOT carnivores. They do not eat meat!

                      1. re: Gio

                        Gray squirrels do eat grubs and can make a mess of a lawn infested with grubs.

                      2. re: Bottomless_Pit

                        I used to grow romaine in a big pot on the west side of my house. A squirrel that lived under the main house next door would wait until it was almost eating size, eat it down almost to the ground, and then run back under the main house. Little brat. It would grow back, and the story would repeat. I kept watering and eventually just grew the romaine for the squirrel.

                        1. re: EWSflash

                          That is hilarious and just what I would do too. You figure if the little squirrel enjoyed the lettuce so much that he should just have it. It is like a bird feeder.

                    3. Probably a little late now but I just found one of these critters:
                      in my garden. Something was seriously eating the green tomatoes left on the vines and the damage was such that I was blaming birds. Nope. It was the tomato hornworm. First one I've ever seen and luckily didn't show up until the tomatoes were all but done. Although we did find these:
                      when we were tilling up the beds last fall and squished every one we found. We didn't know what it was but figured it wasn't good. The worms are big too! The one I found must be 4 1/2" long but they camouflage themselves well and my face was literally a few inches from it before I recognized it as not belonging. Apparently, they can take down a garden pretty quick if you've got an infestation and don't catch it. "Undetected, a tomato hornworm can do a fair amount of damage to its host plant. They have hearty appetites, and can defoliate a plant in a matter of days. If they are detected and removed early on, the plant will recover just fine."

                      27 Replies
                      1. re: morwen

                        i found a tomato hornworm a couple weeks ago on my bell pepper plant. Luckily before I "took care" of him I remembered that my cousin, who is a kindergarten teacher, asked me to save any I found so she could teach her class. We named him Wormy and he survived like 1 week which is amazing considering 27 little kids were all over him with their hands.

                        They are scary looking when they are eating your plants but cute when they are in a jar.

                        1. re: septocaine_queen

                          i'm havin' a hard time lovin' on a hornworm -- even in a jar. they are some ugly-bugglies!

                 ! little kids can be fearless!

                          i never knew this:

                          >>>"""" Tomato Hornworms are the larva of a huge moth called five-spotted hawkmoth. Approximate size of the moth is around the size of a hummingbird so you can’t miss them. The hawkmoth is gray-brown with yellow spots on the sides of their body.

                          The hornworm caterpillars are pretty small at first and hard to see because of their pale green color, but they become huge – 3 1/2 to 4 inches (7-10cm) in 3-4 weeks. You can’t miss them then! They are green-brown colour with v-shaped markings on the body and unmistakable ‘horns’. Hornworm eggs are green and are laid on the underside of leaves."""<<<<

                          1. re: alkapal

                            I screamed my head off when I saw my first one. It was like an alien crawling on my tomato plant. I made my MIL go dispose of it. She tried to pull it off the leaf but it had its claws (?) is so tight we had to pull the whole leaf off.

                            In the jar, its little poos were kinda cute like little blackberries.

                            1. re: septocaine_queen

                              the ones i saw on my neighbor's vines were humongous -- and very nasty looking. no photos i found showed that look.

                              1. re: alkapal

                                The one I gave my cousin looked like this. The one on the upper left corner.


                              2. re: septocaine_queen

                                I scream every time I see one. I hate them. They can strip a tomato or chile in a day.

                              3. re: alkapal

                                Nothing freaks me out like those damn hornworms. Part of it is probably because it's usually hanging an inch in front of my nose by the time I see it .

                              4. re: septocaine_queen

                                LOL alka and septocaine! these are actually pretty amazing things! have you seen how fast they scissor eat a leaf? looks like a Disney animation!
                                Their Adult form, most commonly known as Hummingbird Moth, is pretty impressive as well. While not colorful or pretty; they are impressive in size, body wise. They do indeed look as if they were the Eastern humming bird . But much slower, you are 'sure" you've seen them".
                                I have encountered them many times in my gardens in MA and NJ. I must admit that I have never seen them attack fruit producing tomato plants, just the first month or so's.
                                They are definitely daytime active. They do not work at night, though damage may seem so. Definitely Alien Video game looking creatures.
                                Clearly I have a "Love-Hate" relationship with them. Amazing when they are NOT eating my plants.

                                Moths and Butterflies( Way less active in our gardens as destructive) are incredible As i mentioned before. my Mom's neighbor has curly parsley plants she maintains; as Monarch butterfly caterpillar feeding grounds.
                                How can such a micro (if not nano) sized "brain" know to fly from "birth" from a " a specific place in North American to a thousand mile ( can I have a car like that????) in South America?

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Y'all have seen the "Dune" movies, right? Now we know what inspired the sand worms! "The Spice must flow!"

                                      1. re: morwen

                                        LOL!! I love that idea! Yes, definably brings those to mind.

                                        1. re: morwen

                                          I do not often think of Dune with regards to these things (though thier presence can certainly make me start reciting the Beni-Jesserit oath agaist fear) Being an avid reader of Lovecraft (and the later members of his circle) I tend to equate these things with Shudde-M'ell, the Burrower Beneath.

                                      2. re: Quine

                                        If your neighbor is maintaining curly parsley, then the butterfiles he or she is feeding are Eastern Black Swallowtails or Anise Swallowtails (depending on which side of the country you are in) aka Parsley Worms, which, at some points in thier lives look a little like Monarch cat's. Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed.

                                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                                          you are a "natural" wonder, jumpingmonk!

                                          i cannot believe that i hadn't had you on my reading list (fixed now). you are very knowledgeable, and i enjoy your posts.

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            I agree, I love learning new stuff like this! Thanks jumpingmonk!

                                        2. re: Quine

                                          I don't think hornworms become hummingbird moths, although the hummingbird moth larvae is similar. It is not as large and doesn't eat most garden plants.

                                          1. re: NanH


                                            "Adult stages of hornworms are known as sphinx, hawk, or “hummingbird” moths."

                                            1. re: morwen

                                              Yes, but not all hornworms are tomato hornwooms. The tomato hornworm grows up to be a...uh...five spotted hawk moth??, not a hummingbird moth. Same family, different genus.

                                              1. re: NanH

                                                "The tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae), is native to the United states, and is commonly found throughout the northern states. The adult moth, sometimes referred to as a "sphinx", "hawk", or "hummingbird" moth, is a large, heavy-bodied moth with narrow front wings." S.J. Wold-Burkness & W.D. Hutchison
                                                Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota

                                                The quote in my previous post is from F.B.Peairs, Extension entomologist and professor of entomology, bioagricultural sciences and pest management, Colorado State University.

                                                S.J. Wold-Burkness & W.D. Hutchison link all three-"sphinx", "hawk", and "hummingbird moth" directly as the adult stage of the tomato hornworm.

                                                F.B.Peairs seems to imply that "hummingbird moth" is a localism or common name used for all hornworm moths. On the chart further down the site there are various types of sphinx moths and hawk moths and even one "clearwing" moth listed, and yes, on that chart the tomato hornworm is listed as the "Five-spotted hawkmoth", but nowhere on the chart is the name "hummingbird moth" attached to any one moth.

                                                So "five-spotted hawk moth" is more specific but "hummingbird moth" in general usage is not incorrect.

                                                1. re: morwen

                                                  I'll see your Colorado State University and raise you Montana State University and Iowa State University:

                                                  (Note however that the scientifically accepted common name of "Hummingbird clearwing" refers specifically to Hemaris thysbe.) - from / (Montana State University

                                                  Only one sphinx moth, uncommon to Iowa,
                                                  officially carries the name of hummingbird
                                                  moth. The “hummingbird clearwing moth” is
                                                  one of several moth species that lose most
                                                  of the scales that cover and color the wings -from

                                                  1. re: NanH

                                                    Ladies, ladies, as the original poster of the tomato hornworm stuff I so totally am thrilled about the research you both went through to add material to the topic.
                                                    But the topic is about what's eating the tomatos and unless we want to start including recipe for grilled Very large hovering moths, I declare this unraveled part of the thread, tied up shut now, OK. Please.

                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                      Oh,oh! Grilled Moth! I'll bring the skewers Nan! Do you think we should marinade? And I think a citrusy white to accompany. Gewurztraminer, maybe?

                                                      1. re: morwen

                                                        Or maybe a dry rub? We have to do something about that powdery stuff on the wings. I have a Gewurztraminer already open in the fridge, do you have a bottle too?

                                                        1. re: NanH

                                                          <"I'll see your Colorado State University and raise you Montana State University and Iowa State University:">

                                                          PRICELESS !!!!!!!!!!!

                                        3. re: septocaine_queen

                                          Oh no they aren't.
                                          I've found them in bizarre places, like hanging from my desert willows and once from a mesquite, at the bottom of a natural pool in the mountains, and once on my front bumper because i had some catclaw vines draping over the carport and must have knocked one off. but it didn't fall off and stayed there for the whole day. God they're creepy.

                                      3. Chipmunks were the ones eating my tomatoes.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: snippet

                                          Chipmunks were eating mine, too, last year. They'd eat a few bites out of the almost ripe ones. I looked into getting some bird netting to put over the plants, but I thougt that might just help them climb higher. So I got a plastic owl with a bobbly head and put it near the tomatoes. I'm hoping that will works.

                                          1. re: snippet

                                            ground hogs also love tomatoes had one in my yard for years.

                                            1. re: mutti

                                              Since my last post on this subject, I've heard that rubber snakes placed around the garden also help to keep critters away. Now the hard part is finding a place to buy rubber snakes!

                                              1. re: AmyH

                                                A lot of garden stores / Agway type places carry blow-up snakes, which I feel really stupid using; but our local groundhog respects the Plissken, so it is here to stay. (The snakes can do double-duty if you decorate for Halloween.) Educational or nature-y toy stores sometimes have respectable-looking fake snakes. Amazon, of course, carries both the blow-up and solid rubber models.

                                                1. re: harrie

                                                  Thank you! It's great to hear that it works with your local ground hog. Everyone seems to be ignoring my plastic owl. I guess I'll be shopping for a snake this weekend!