From the kitchen table this evening, while Don peruses the Ozark County Times, we hear the night sounds that drift through the windows; frog virtuosos perform against a background of cicadas, crickets and katydids. But tonight I'm listening for something slightly more sinister, the sound of tomato hornworms munching in my garden.
I haven’t grown tomatoes for several years now, since the year I cut 57 hornworms in half with scissors. (I still shudder at the thought.) That may seem extreme if you've never encountered those small monsters. Apparently, they take about 3 weeks to mature, but when I first noticed them, they were already the size of Muhammad Ali's fingers, and every bit as strong. It seemed that they had eaten through most of my tomato plants, leaves, fruit, and stems, all overnight.
After I had time to come to terms with the loss, I felt pretty bad about the executions, but not nearly as bad as I did when I learned that those green eating machines morph into lithe and lovely sphinx moths. Who knew?
Last year, we watched with great interest as caterpillars spun cocoons, and emerged as monarch butterflies. Wouldn't it be just as fascinating to see the hummingbird moth emerge? So this year, I had a plan. I'd plant and enjoy tomatoes, and if and when the hornworms came along, I'd watch them. It seemed like a no-brainer, a win-win situation. That was, of course, before I tasted the tomatoes.
I just planted one tomato plant in my little raised garden that Don built out of railroad ties. It's a grape tomato called "Juliette". In my small plot, I planted everything pretty close together, before I looked up “Julliette” tomatoes on the internet. According to Bonnie Plants, “Vines are long and vigorous, so give the plant room to tumble over its cage.” No kidding. One vine rambles over 7 feet, and it looks like it’s just getting started. The garden is now a jumbled mix of flowers and vegetables with cucumbers climbing up butterfly milkweed and sunflowers, and spreading out over the cantaloupe, all the while vying for space with the tomatoes.
The tomatoes, despite their crowding, are sublime. We eat the sweet, delicious morsels in salads, and straight off the plant like candy. Chipmunks seem to relish those ruby treasures as much as we do, but so far, there have been enough to go around.
That could all change if the early signs I'm seeing are accurate, the telltale signs of tomato hornworms, the brown curled leaves, the half chewed leaves, and the browned cavities in the tomatoes. The voracious insects are hard to spot until they grow large, and by then, it's often too late for the tomatoes.
I got out the spray bottle of insecticide that had been gathering dust on its shelf in the garage. Then I recalled another distinct pleasure of the garden, the morning visits when the bees are working their way from flower to flower, pollinating tomatoes and and raspberries, cucumbers and cantaloupe, making the harvest possible. The garden might be worth the trouble just for that, let alone the delicious produce. The bottle went back on the shelf.
So I'm left with my little dilemma, and in the large scheme of things, it's not very significant. But if everybody used their scissors and the hummingbird moth went extinct, I, for one, would miss them. On the other hand, if there were no more tomatoes in my garden, I'd miss them, too.
It's a complicated world.
Linking with Saturday's Critters