Jade green, stripes of white,
Spiked without yet soft within.
Tomato hornworm.

Ick. It’s almost time for the tomato hornworms to start showing up. I loathe the rotten baskets more than Farmer Allen loathes sweet little white butterflies. These pests start out teeny and grow to be the size of teacup Chihuahuas. You could put leashes on them and take them for walkies, if you didn’t mind spending a fortune to keep them in fresh produce.

For, as their name implies, they eat tomatoes. They eat tomato leaves, they eat tomato stems, they eat tomatoes. They can defoliate a plant, and that’s not one of my exaggerations. Then they start chomping on the tomatoes. Like many other pests *cough*turtles*cough*, they don’t eat a whole one, they just take enough bites to ruin it for anybody else and then move on to another one.

This is one reason I love wasps. For wasps lay eggs on tomato hornworms.  Actually, this is NOT a fate I would wish on anything, but Mother Nature is not as sweet and gentle as I am. The larvae suck the ever-living life out of the hornworms, which is absolutely ghastly. I mean, the larvae don’t even sparkle, for goodness sake!

Back when we kept chickens, I would pluck the hornworms off the plants and toss them into the arena with the chickens. The chickens almost always won, but at least the hornworms had a chance for life and glory. The chickens actually preferred the ones with little white sprinkles on, but I usually left those so the wasps could hatch out and protect the next year’s crop. That, children, is organic gardening, red in tooth and claw.

Our #2 daughter keeps chickens now, but she’s vegetarian, and I don’t know how she’d feel about my feeding her chickens tomato hornworms. I mean, she knows that chickens aren’t vegetarian, but she has to eat those eggs, and it might make her queasy to condone deliberately putting animal protein into her food chain.

Life is full of quandaries, isn’t it?

MA

writing prompt: Write a scene in which a character, new to gardening, first sees a tomato hornworm on a tomato plant.

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