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.

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