Monday, August 27, 2007

Unwelcome visitors are finally gone

This past week, we had some very unpleasant visitors at our home. They ate too much, destroyed my property and were oh-so-very ... GREEN. Neon green to be exact.

Oh, The Devastation
In a mere day or two, the guests to whom I'm referring devastated the lovely, fruitful tomato plants I had growing on our deck. I noticed it on Saturday, while enjoying a summer evening with friends and family. As I admired my potted garden, I noticed a few stalks looked a little bare. On closer inspection, I saw that MANY of the stalks looked completely bare. As my 6 year old nephew would say, "What THE...?!?"

Having dealt with deer eating tomato plants in our backyard garden the last two years, I thought I'd be smart and put them on the deck this time. But now... more damage? Would a deer really climb up the deck stairs to eat a tomato plant? I wasn't sure what was worse, the plant being damaged or the thought of deer on my deck.

Photo by Leslie Surel. Copyright 8/2007.My husband missed this dinner-time drama, and went out later that night to inspect the plants. He returned with two plump green caterpillars and said, "I found your deer." We looked on the Internet to learn more about these strange creatures.

What THE...?!?
This is what we've learned and observed.
  • They are called tomato horn worms (see the sinister looking horn on his back end?) or tobacco worms. Did you know tomato and tobacco plants are related? Both are part of the nightshade family. [Cool website link:]

  • Tomato Horn Worms are not worms at all, but caterpillars that will eventually turn into a very large moth, lay eggs and make more caterpillars. [Another informative link about Tomato Worms:]

  • The recommended way to get rid of them in small gardens is to pick them off. This is challenging because they blend in so well, and hide under the leaves during the daylight hours when it gets hot.

  • Illustration by Eric Carle, www.eric-carle.comThey look very much like the star of Eric Carle's famous children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Makes me wonder if this happened to his tomato plants, too. Because I can totally see how this voracious creature could eat through one apple, two oranges, three strawberries, a slice of salami, a piece of cake... etc.
Not again!
Unfortunately, I went out to check my tomatoes Sunday morning and found they had once again been attacked. The plants were in really bad shape, and lost about half of their foliage. I found three more tomato worms.

I clipped off the mostly bare stalk and a caterpillar along with it -- I wasn't gonna touch that thing! -- put it in on a paper plate and brought it in to show the kids. It was an interesting and somewhat entertaining morning, as we watched the caterpillar munch on the leaves, take a poo, and inch around looking for more to eat. But I'm still mad.

As of Monday afternoon, the plants are at status quo. Which hopefully means we found all of the accused.

What About My Treasures?
Now, what about the harvest? After getting rid of the green visitors, I am trying to remain optimistic that we will enjoy a few more home grown tomatoes. There are quite a few green ones, so I hope they will ripen properly. There is little hope of new tomatoes growing though.

I am no farmer, but I do enjoy gardening. But after three years of having disappointing crops of tomatoes and other vegetables due to unseasonably cold weather, deer eating vegetables down to the nubs, and now caterpillars stripping plants clean, I'm about ready to give up. There is always Chelsea's Farmers Market, right?

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