29August 8, 2012

We have definitely had no shortage of hot weather. The weather had created some thunderstorms so we got some much needed rain. Hopefully, you haven’t lost any plants to the heat and drought.

We have a couple of tomato plants growing at the store. On Sunday, we noticed that quite a few of the leaves had been eaten. I was pretty sure that it was the tomato hornworm that was the culprit. I couldn’t find them at first, but I eventually spotted one of them. It was on a main stem, next to a leaf. It was blending in perfectly with the green leaves. I took it off the plant and we took a few photos before we disposed of it. While Joyce was taking its picture, I went out to look again and found another hornworm. You can check our Facebook page if you want to see the pictures.
The tomato hornworm is the caterpillar stage of a huge night-flying moth. The moth lays its eggs on the tomato plant leaves and soon the eggs hatch out into the caterpillar. These caterpillars are definitely an eating machine. I had looked at the plants on Friday and saw no sign of damage. By Sunday, they had eaten about 20% of the leaves. The two caterpillars we had found were about 3 inches long and about the diameter of a cigar. Their size tends to intimidate the novice gardener. You can pick them off by hand and dispose of the caterpillar. If you cannot find them or if you cannot bring yourself to hand picking them, they can be controlled by using BT. This usually works best when they are small. There are a host of other insecticides that will work at controlling this caterpillar. Just be sure to read the insecticide label to see how many days from when you spray until you can eat the tomatoes.

If you see the caterpillar, you may see that Mother Nature may be controlling the problem for you. If you see small white bumps that look like grains of rice protruding from the back of the caterpillar, you can just leave that caterpillar on the plant. The protrusions on the caterpillar are actually a parasite that is slowly killing the caterpillar. By allowing the caterpillar to stay on your plant, you will be increasing the number of these caterpillar killers for years to come.

The other caterpillar that you may not see on your plants is the tomato fruit worm. This caterpillar tunnels into your green tomatoes and eats the inside of the tomato. You will see a round hole in the tomato where the caterpillar has entered the tomato. Once they have been inside the tomato, they will make the tomato unfit to eat. Eventually they will exit the tomato, but you wind up with tomatoes you cannot eat. You can do preventative sprays of an insecticide to control this caterpillar before it gets inside the tomato. Once inside the plant, there is very little you can do except for picking off the tomato and disposing of it.

Well now that I have ruined your appetite for tomatoes, I would tell you that these two creatures are why you need to check out you gardens on a regular basis looking for insect pests and signs of fungus diseases. If you catch the problem early, you can prevent a lot of damage to your gardens.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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