Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tomato Hornworms vs. the World

I have gardened for years, but most of that time has been in Montana. Before that, Colorado, and way before that I helped or observed my mother's garden (and honestly did not really know all that was going on there). Living in and gardening in Houston, Texas has been a complete change.

Houston is WET. It is HUMID. It is HOT. Almost everything grows here... and that isn't just the plants. We have monster bugs.

A few days ago I encountered the tomato hornworm for the first time in 15 years of gardening. That probably surprises other gardeners--from what I can tell online, most of you may already be aware of these huge, green, tomato-eaters. My apologies... I had no idea.

Since finding smaller fruit worms on my plants a few weeks back and then the hornworms a few days ago I have done a number of things:
  1. Scanned the plants multiple times daily to manually pick off any worms (none today! I am catching up).
  2. Released Trichogramma Wasps after hatching their tiny eggs, ordered by mail. They cost about $10 for many thousand. These parasitic wasps plant their eggs in caterpillars and kill them--helping future me by cutting down future worm populations.
  3. Released a huge bag of live ladybugs from my local nursery. Ladybugs easy worm eggs as well as many other garden pests. 
  4. I already had marigolds planted throughout my beds to deter pests.
  5. Familiarized myself with what the hornworm pupae carapace looks like when it is in the ground (you can see it here--it looks the same as the tobacco worm). I realized I had seen these while digging--I just did not know what they were. Now I do, and I will no longer leave them in the dirt.
My mother, also an avid gardener, wrote a blog about the tomato hornworm this week, too--reflecting on the fact that it develops into the hawk moth, a large evening pollinator. I do take pause to think about the cycle that has to happen to protect my garden. Is it "natural" to kill the worms by releasing natural predators? Ultimately I don't think my removal of hornworms from my garden will change their population in the area. However, I do hope to keep them at bay in my own little pocket of city garden.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Gardens of Palo Alto

I was in Palo Alto, California the last week of March & was impressed by the high number of yards with no grass, the beautiful natural grass landscaping and front-yard vegetable gardens, and the many public gardens! Here are some photos, many of which are of the Elisabeth Gamble Garden or the Rinconada Community Garden next to the public library. Some are of front yards as I walked around town.

If it inspires you to move to California and start growing things, there are a ton of great resources including 52 Weeks in the California Garden by Robert Smaus. The Rinconada Public Library next to the community garden had many beautiful gardening books and a sale shelf with a few gardening books for cheap.

Monday, March 20, 2017

2016: Lost Gardening Year

In January 2016 I bought a new home in the city limits of Houston on a HALF ACRE of land--amazing. I had big plans (and I still do) but 2016 had some plans of its own. Shortly after getting fully moved in, my area of Houston flooded and the house I had just moved into had to be repaired throughout--4 months of ripping out & replacing drywall, flooring and cabinets. During that time I was back to apartment living and there was no easy opportunity to garden. It was sad: a whole year where I barely got any dirt time.

I did manage to plant pomegranate and lime trees on my half-acre. And in the fall when I moved back in I was able to start building vegetable beds. Here's the progression of the bed building, which is now back in full swing. Hopefully this blog will be back in full swing soon, too. Even if I no longer have bees, I have land and the pollinators will come for the food...

Monday, July 20, 2015

First July Garden in Houston: Questions & Photos

Here are some photos of what's going on in the yard in the middle of this Houston heat. It will come as no surprise that the heat-lovers (sweet potatoes, okra, fig, citrus) continue to flourish while some of the other plants (pumpkins, artichokes, potatoes) aren't 100% loving it.


I have two small pumpkins about 4 lbs. each and the vines have died back, just like they did in the fall when it got too cold in Montana. However, here it is the 100 degree days that killed them. I am surprised I got pumpkins at all--in July? They were compost volunteers and I let them grow, so I cannot complain. I also, very oddly, have a few strawberries coming despite the fact that the plants already produced in the spring?

Some of my plants (not pictured) look bleached out by the heat and sun. I know they have enough water and are heavily mulched, but I think I need to cover them with some shade cloth as well.


I also think the heat may be too much for the tomatoes. They are alive and most of them look happy, but there are fewer fruits developing now that it has gotten hotter. Since tomatoes need night temperatures below 75 to produce, I'm guessing I may see a slowdown for a while. I have only had one tomato stolen by the birds--a grackle I assume. Here are some of the Houston-specific tomato information websites I've found: 

Buchanan's Native Plants Tomato Guide - mainly variety recommendations for Houston
Growing Tomatoes in Houston by Donald Ray Burger
Houston Chronicle "Tomato Time" - basic tips for growing tomatoes in Houston