Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall Harvest Bounty Or How to Get Rid of Hornworms

A late season visitor, the dreaded tomato hornworm
At this time of year, gardeners usually enjoy a bounteous end of the season harvest. And, we are indeed among the lucky ones continuing to reap the fruits of our labor. The tomatoes have been sweet, the peppers colorful, the lettuce still tender and the herbs still growing strong. Yet, as the days grow shorter, the plants are getting a bit tired and it is beginning to feel like the end is near. The past month has been tough on the garden. Battering rains from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee weakened our lovely tomato vines, exhausted our cucumbers and soaked our impatiens. Cooler weather and fewer hours of sunshine are also having the usual effects of shutting down new production. So, imagine my surprise, when this late in the season I discovered unwanted visitors terrorizing my tomato plants! How on earth did the icky green hornworms get back into my garden?? We had an infestation earlier this summer and took massive steps to eradicate it, including hunting down the green gobblers that ingest the leaves at a rapid rate, and spraying with Safer caterpillar killer, an organic insecticide. Our measures were quite effective and the menacing worms disappeared. Until now! All this week I've been engaged in a second battle with the bugs. To defeat them, one must be vigilent. What's most important is finding them before they munch the life out of the plants. And in order to do this, one must follow the poop! As they eat, they leave a trail of black droppings on lower leaves and the ground. On our pink pavers, the poop really stands out. Looking up from the trail, one can find denuded leaves and upon closer inspection, the worm will come into focus. It's not easy to locate them, as you can see how green they are from the photo. On a leafy plant even the huge ones are very hard to spot. I can report that as of this morning, the terrace was poop-free, which I'm hoping means we are worm-free (again.) Crossing my fingers!