Monday, May 14, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomato Hornworms!

Well, they were actually Tobacco Hornworms, but Tomato Hornworms made for a better title. Anyway, when it comes to Tobacco/Tomato Hornworms the potential devastation is the same and the difference only comes down to the color of the "horns" on their bottoms.

My 3 year old daughter and I discovered these viscious little beasts on one of our daily garden inspections. She immediately fell in love "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and demanded that we allow them to stay in the garden so they could become "big fat caterpillars, build a cocoon and become beautiful butterflies". If you have small children and have ever read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle then you know what I'm up against. I convinced her that we should at least move them away from the garden so that they could eat some nice green leaves, then I checked my favorite site for all of my tomato questions, and discovered that these were not harmless little green caterpillars. I had a tomato killer on my hands. These little buggers left unchecked are capable of devouring an entire tomato plant in just a few days!!!

As to the fact that I refer to them interchangably, they are very similar in appearance. The most obvious distinction between the two is the color of the horn. On Tomato Hornworms it is dark blue, dark green or black and on Tobacco Hornworms it is red. Mine were definitely red and that's actually how I found them. There bodies are the same color as the tomato leaves making them a little difficult to spot. You should also be on the lookout for leaf wilt and missing leaves. The best way to prevent full blown crop devastation is to inspect your plants daily in the early morning or late evening and catch them early.  If you happen to be unfortunate enough to find these vile little creatures gorging on your prized tomatoes, the best defense is to pick them off and drop them into a bowl of soapy water. The lovely folks at Tomato Dirt were kind enough to give me a little more advice via a very prompt reply to a message sent to their Facebook page regarding prevention of future infestation. As soon as your plants are done producing in the fall, till the soil to deeply bury any larvae that may have been left behind. That should kill 90% of the eggs. Then in the winter burn your leaf piles in the garden area. Not only will it kill any remaining pests and fungi that may be lurking about waiting to feast on next years crop, but it will add nutrients to your soil. I am happy to report that no Hornworms have been found in my garden for 3 days now. It pays to be totally obsessed with your garden!

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