If you plant tomatoes, they will come.
No respecter of the nightshade family, the tomato hornworm consumes tomato leaves, knows when green shoots sprout for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
No respecter of soil, overwintered moths emerge from the earth in early spring with a vengeance to mate and invade our paradise.
Meanwhile, we harvest our first cucumber, oblivious to greenish-white eggs laid on the underside of our tomato leaves.
Perennial masters of camouflage, the eggs grow unawares within four weeks to its larval stage of the hawk or sphinx moth.
No respecter of the gardener’s labor and investment, the larvae grow legions of legs: five pairs of prolegs and three pairs of thoracic legs.
A dreadful looking black horn spikes on the back abdomen of their plump, green belly fed on nature’s bounty. Hornworms will decimate a tomato plant and patch if not plucked off and destroyed.
Simple enough, you experienced gardeners may say.
Not so for this greenhorn growing thirty some tomato plants a decade ago.
“Eww…” I said at first sight when a farmhand spied several hornworms fastened to denuded tomato stems. My mother’s voice echoed in my mind. I hated bugging beans and tomatoes.
Then Kim, my right-hand farm friend, plucked a worm off a stem without a wince. In awe of her self-confidence, I followed her lead. In minutes we debugged seven hornworms and carried them to the hen’s pen.
There’s not much in the entertainment industry that can compete with hens chasing the one with the worm in its beak.
That fun long behind, I’ve devoted this summer to writing, weeding, deadheading, and mulching gardens– left the vegetable garden and hornworm watch to my husband.
When a young friend and her daughter visited one lovely evening this week, we strolled the farm. Thoroughly enjoying the rare pleasure of one another’s company during this prolonged season of confinement, we found ourselves before the vegetable garden.
“I’ve not opened this gate for days,” I confessed. “Mel’s the vegetable guy. I’m the flower girl.”
Cheryl, the mother of two teenagers, said, “It’s beautiful. We don’t have room for a vegetable garden, or the time to grow one.”
Jenna, her daughter, spied a baby cantaloupe.
“Good eye,” I said.
We moseyed back to the garden entrance where the tomatoes grow. “I may as well look for tomato worms, if y’all don’t mind,” I said.
“Not at all. We’ll help. What do they look like?” Cheryl asked.
“Green and gross.”
Indeed. In plain view, the largest hornworm I’ve seen to date, chewed away a leaf on an upper stem.
“Eww…” Jenna said.
Clueless of its demise, I plucked off the spongy worm.
“It’s huge!” Cheryl said.
They followed me to the henhouse where we laughed a good while at five hens chasing the one with the worm in its beak.
“I think it’s finally a goner,” Cheryl said.
Dear Reader, I appreciate Nature’s food chain.
Nothing goes to waste in the cessation of the lifecycle of a tomato hornworm.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.