Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pick 'Em Off One By One

This year there were so many groundhogs in our area that I followed the example set by my next door neighbor and planted the tasty veggies right outside my side door. Coyote urine is supposed to keep these pesky critters away, but it must be reapplied so often that it is not cost effective. I have thrown the granules under the shed, blocked off the many entrances with rocks and roofing shingles, yet they stay. 

Growing vegetables on a hot blacktop driveway/patio has drawbacks. The blacktop holds heat and forces one to water the potted plants more often. One day last week I noticed that my tomato plant was seriously wilted in one day. I had watered it the day before and here it was mid morning behaving as if it had not been watered for a week. Several leaves showed signs of nibbling.

Tomato hornworm
Upon close examination I found this little fellow and his friend. They were making a meal of my tomato plant. When I was little this tomato horn worm was picked off the plants by hand. We did not use poisons on edible foods. My Mom was terribly afraid of worms. She would attack the most poisonous snake head on, but would turn and run from a worm like this. Go figure. It fell to the kids to pick off these little buggers so she could return to her garden. I wasn't afraid of him. I just didn't like the feel of the thing when picking it up. I wore a glove when one was available and at other times I used a large leaf or a piece of paper or fabric to move the little critter to a container of water where he drowned. Over the years, I have gotten less amenable to touching them. I picked off the 2 in the water below while wearing gloves.

More images of hornworms
Don't get excited if you see the worm carrying around little white rice-like eggs on his back. These are the eggs of the braconid wasp and this wasp is a friend to the tomato and the rest of the garden because they are actually boring into the worm and eating him from the inside out. I know, euw. That little fellow to the left is a goner. The braconid wasp helps rid our gardens of this pest. Careful with the pesticides, because they might kill the wasp.

The guys floating in the greenish water to the left were eating their fill when I discovered them at their feast. The plant was leaning over near death. As soon as they were removed and the plant was watered it started to revive. I checked the plant for others and found none. It is amazing how much of the green innards of the tomato plant oozed from the worms without my coaxing it out. Methinks they actually escaped my notice for a time because they were mere tiny babies when I brought the plants home from the nursery. I will remember to examine my seedlings more carefully from now on.

Drooping with the life waters being sucked
out by the tomato horn worm
minutes after removing the worms

I know they look vicious with those horns, but just think of their next stage. They are moths. Check your plants before leaving the nursery. Pick 'em off one by one before bringing out the spray bottle filled with chemicals. 

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