30 May 2010

veggies: Tomato Monsters

Some of you may recall my declaration last summer that I was done with tomatoes. I had had it up to here with the leaf-footed bugs sucking out my tomato juices and the squirrels carrying off and half eating my few ripe tomatoes. BUT, I'm a sucker. I couldn't resist the tomato plants at the garden center and went for it anyway. And what do I get? More bugs! Yay!

And speaking of, this morning I noticed the tell-tale signs of the presence of a tomato or tobacco hornworm - the larvae of the sphinx moth, Manduca sexta - tomato stems completely denuded and chewed to a nub. So I followed the trail down the stems and lo and behold: a hornworm!

Now, I do have a major love for sphinx moths, so this always puts me in a quandry.

Most folks would probably not hesitate to pluck that little f*cker off the plant and drown it in soapy water, squish it, or throw it over the fence. But I LOVE sphinx moths and their caterpillars. Look how exquisitely gorgeous this little creature is, all plump and green with eye-like spiracles passively inhaling my garden air. It's crocheted prolegs holding tight against the tomato stem. It's head and thorax held tight like a sphinx. The scary red horn on its end that's nothing more than ornament - not really prickly at all.

And the adult moths are like little fairies swirling around the gardens in the dark evenings, sipping nectar from plants like datura

So, probably, since those other crappy bugs are eating my tomatoes and I'm unlikely to get many for myself anyway, I will leave my little hornworm to devour the tomato plant. He will get much bigger and much juicier. Perhaps he will become infested with little parasitoid wasps. Maybe a bird will find him for dinner. Or perhaps, he will leave some tomatoes for me.


Dorothy Borders said...

Damn those leaf-footed stink bugs! They are a plague on the earth - at least that part of the earth where gardeners try to grow tomatoes. But as for the hornworm, I admit an affection for them and their parent sphinx moths. I always tolerate them.

Editor said...

I've found that the little stink bugs will leave cherry tomatoes alone.

ESP said...

Hi Lee, and wow...what a great photograph of the hornworm. My recent post featured datura, so I was thrilled to see a picture of the sphinx larvae looking just like an Egyptian sphinx.
I will be keeping a close lookout on my tomato plants for one of these. I know I should probably not be wishing to see one, but I am.

LindaCTG said...

Beautiful pictures! And I love your philosophy. I came so close to nabbing a tomato plant or two this year, but held off, for the reasons you so wonderfully denote. Next year, maybe!

TexasDeb said...

I have a tomato plant started from seed that I put away from the ones I am hoping to harvest fruit from.

Then when I spot anything I can't stomach killing outright I relocate it whenever possible to my "for the eaters" plant.

And at this point I have fennel and dill plants around just for the swallowtail caterpillars. My garden is going to the bugs!

Paul said...

Hilarious- I swore off tomatoes last year only to try again this year with rather excellent results so far. Yay for bird poop, corn meal, and compost!

But I'm a superprotective daddy. I can't allow anything to feed on my babies (esp after all the work I put into them!). I try to find other places for the hornworm- it will feed on trompillo and datura, and I always have that in my yard somewhere. Actually, you have little choice but to have trompillo around.

Rock rose said...

I'm sorry, I don't share the same feeling as you do for these marauders. I'll pick off the hornworms and it won't make any difference to the numbers who show up next spring. They will still be there flying in to feed on the columbines at dusk. As to leaf footed bugs. I killed one this morning. The first one I have seen. I really like home grown tomatoes and prefer then not to have yellow hard spots on them. I was too kind to the furry caterpillars this year and my chard is a tattered mess. Stink bugs, leaf footeds, s vine borers and hornworms have to go.

Laguna Dirt said...

i hope i get a sphinx month in my garden!!