They Know…And They Lie In Wait

by Curt Kovener

Vegetable plants in the wilderness were looking good all summer. We were harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and green beans.
Here in the middle of the forest we grow our harvestable fruits and vegetables in large pots or raised beds up near the house.
We tried growing everything in a large sunny area of the clearing down the hill by the lane. It was fenced to keep the turkeys, deer and raccoon from getting to our plants before we were ready to harvest.
But, alas, while we drove by the garden on the way out or back in the lane, we could never seem to make the time to make a garden specific trip. As a result, weeds took over which camouflaged the insects and animals eating our crops.
We gave up on potatoes, turnips, and radishes because ground dwelling voles and shrews relished the underground crop before they were anywhere near harvestable size.
Japanese beetles would make some occasional uninvited appearances to gnaw on leaves. Squash beetles trimmed zucchini in ways that were not productive. And bean beetles curtailed any green bean growth.
So we moved the garden to individual pots raised beds up near the house where they could be easily viewed, inspected and treated for any pest. There is now no need for a fence as Emma the Great Pyrenees keeps deer, turkey, raccoons and squirrels off her piece of the property all around the house.
We had been harvesting much of July and August with an occasional dusting to eliminate pests and watering every other day.
So we thought nothing when we left at noon a couple Friday’s back to attend a newspaper conference in nearby French Lick. A good time was had with renewing friendships there.
But when we returned at noon on Sunday, the joy of the weekend vanished. All was not as we left it.
Tomato hornworms, the caterpillar of the large brown-gray hawkmoth, had not only stripped the leaves of our tomatoes, but began gnawing on the green tomatoes.
We had one heirloom variety tomato called a Mortgage Lifter—a large, pinkish and meaty-fruited plant— which you can save the seed each year and it comes back as its parent. The leaves were gone; most of the green tomatoes had been chewed on.
The adults of the wilderness abound were angry and used some very adult words toward their untimely invaders.
“What were they doing? Waiting at the end of the lane for us to leave for the weekend?” sardonically inquired Becky about our opportunistic invaders.
I was already on my way fetching a coffee can and began plucking the hornworms off the tomatoes. It takes some study and concentration as they are the same color green as the tomato stalks.
I describe them as about the size of my extended middle finger. Which is exactly the way I feel about tomato hornworms.
We both searched the tomato plants, she pointing out some worms that I missed.
I took my coffee can hornworm containment device down to the dock. I threw out some floating fish food to chum the water for as many bluegill as available.
When they began popping at the food on the surface, I began popping hornworms into the water,
“Take that you #$%^&,” I said as I sent the worm filled with our tomatoes to their fate. The bluegills relished the extra protein and quickly made quick work on the green invaders. I watched with sadistic glee as the green worms were pulled beneath the surface to continue the food chain.
The tomatoes are now sending out new shoots recuperating from their attack. But I doubt that there is enough time to produce before the first killing frost when our garden and flower containers make their pilgrimage to the basement for the winter.