Something was eating the tomatoes.
Joe sat on the deck staring at the plants and wondering. The plants were too close to the house for it to be deer so it must be a rabbit on stilts doing all this damage. He knew what had to be done so he went inside to get his tools.
Armed with the bug gun and bug house, he quietly walked through the tomato plants observing the bug life.
Ladybugs. Those were good to have around. They eat those pesky aphids.
Butterflies and bumblebees. Known pollinators…essential bugs for the garden.
Worms. Wait, huge worms. Green, striped, GIGANTIC worms!
Joe slowly raised his bug gun and opened the house, ready for this unknown bug. He pulled the trigger and with a “thwap” the worm was contained safely in the house. He put some leaves from the tomato plants in with it so he could observe and discover its weaknesses.
Joe sat and watched. At first, the worm just lay there. Probably too scared to move in the presence of such a skilled bug hunter, thought Joe. Then, slowly, it started chomping. Before Joe knew it, an entire stem was stripped of it’s leaves and the horned worm was wrapped around a cherry tomato chomping away.
After finishing the tomato off, the worm lay back seeming to drift off to sleep. Satisfied that he had enough information, Joe went inside and started to research this type of wormy behaviour.
At first, all signs pointed to the “tomato horn worm”. Big, green, striped and eats tomatoes. But on closer examination, the stripes were not quite right. The tomato horn worm had 8 v-shaped stripes while the worm Joe had captured had 7 diagonal gray and white stripes.
Then he found it. The tobacco horn worm had invaded the garden.
Joe looked at the mega-worm in the bug house, wondering how to combat this beast. What would scare it and it’s buddies away from the garden? The time had come to observe some more.
Joe went back out to the garden, carting his safari chair, a bottle of water and a snack. It would be a long afternoon. He set up camp behind a screen of tomato plants and waited with his binoculars at the ready.
Before long, the horned worms started slithering up and down the tomato plants, chewing and chomping away. It took all of Joe’s self control not to pull his bug gun out right then.
More time passed. Joe was just about to pack up for the day when he saw it. One of the worms had what appeared to be tiny white rice all over it’s body. He whipped out his magnifying glass to take a closer look.
The tiny white rice were actually tiny white cocoons. Not wanting to kill what could be a potential friend to the garden, Joe went back inside to do a bit more research…and it’s a good thing he did.
The cocoons belonged to a wasp that lays eggs just under the skin of hornworms, providing ready food for the baby wasps when they are born. The growing wasps pretty much suck the life out of the hornworm so that when they finally emerge, ready to start out on their own, the hornworm has no energy to continue it’s assault on the tomato plants.
Joe leaned back in his chair with a satisfied smile on his face. The troops were already deployed…all he had to do was make sure that there was plenty of cilantro and dill planted to attract them to their prey.
Time for a tall glass of milk and a sleeve of Oreos.