Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
My son runs in the house with a big smile and a new discovery from the garden. "Dad, Dad I have a new pet, can I keep him?" "What did you find son?" He shows me a 4 inch long green Hornworm that make most gardeners cry out with fear. Then I take a dreaded walk to my tomato plant on which he has just found his new pet and see what I expected. Oh no, what is happening to my plants? Look at the holes in the leaves! How hungry are these critters? And why the heck does this huge caterpillar with a sharp dagger on it's back hate my tomato plants so much?
Tomato Hornworms can bring ruin to your tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers. They can cause a lot of damage in very little time. They have a voracious appetite that can defoliate a plant in just a few days, munching on the leaves, stems and parts of immature fruit. It is most common to see the damage done to your plants before you ever notice the hornworm itself. If you detect and remove them early, your plant has a good chance to recover. The tomato hornworm measures about three to four inches long and are green in color with v-shaped white markings on it's sides. On it's rear you will see a dark sharp horn. But do not worry, the horn is really just a decoy. It is meant to deter predators. The horn is very flexible and will not harm you when you pick up the hornworm caterpillar.
One thing to look for if you suspect that a hornworm is damaging your tomatoes is around the base of the plant you will see the remains or poop of the worm. They produce a lot and it is dark black clumps about the site of tiny pebbles, 1/8 inch semi round. Despite it's fairly large size, the hornworm can be very difficult to find. Their light green color camouflage them very well. But with it's large size you can simply go on a mission to find them and then pluck them off the plants and dispose of them. It is best to catch them early when they are smaller and have smaller appetites. If you have had infestation on a regular basis it is best to till up the soil before planting or around the existing plants. This will bury and kill the brownish pupae that is living in the soil.
The tomato hornworm is actually the larvae stage of what we call the hummingbird or hawk moth. They live is the soil and usually emerge late in the spring time. Their light green eggs are laid on the underside of plant leaves. The eggs hatch in only 4 to 6 days. Then the hornworm is on a mission to eat as much as possible in quick fashion. It only has 4 to 5 weeks to grow as much as possible before it goes into the soil to pupate and emerge as a moth.
One note is that many times you may see a large hornworm with little white things all over it's back. This is a good thing. The white things are eggs of the Braconid Wasp. These eggs hatch and the developing young larvae eat up the host worm. These wasps are a great benefit to your garden and defend it from pests that can damage your plants.
A very natural way to keep hornworms away is to diversify your plants in the area. Some plants will attract wasps for the good of your garden. These wasps love the small flowers that grow in clusters. So you should plant some things like like dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace and biennials like carrots and parsley. They also love daisy-like flowers, tansy, spearmint, clover, sweet alyssum. If you plant these ahead of time and every year in and around your garden, the wasps should take care of any problems with the hornworm caterpillars.
Some also choose to spray the leaves of the tomato plants with the original form of BT, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki/ Most people just call this old organic caterpillar killer B T. Just be sure of what you are spraying any time you do choose to spray. Spray your tomato plants in the evening, or as soon as you spot them.
As a side note the the hornworm caterpillar makes a great discovery project in a jar for young children. When we captured one we made it a family adventure of guessing when he would eat the tomato in his container and when he may pupate into a moth. We took a sheet of paper and all wrote down our guesses. Another thing to explore is if they have the wasp eggs on them then gently place the hornworm with the eggs in tact into a container and watch as the wasps devour their host worm and they grow to be garden defenders. Yes, even a hornworm caterpillar can be a fun homeschooling or unschooling learning adventure.
I do have to add that this new pet will not see me shedding any tears when it is gone in 1 or 2 days. I want all my tomatoes for myself. Good Riddance!
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