The Very Hungry…Hornworm?

by on June 30, 2007
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Tomato Hornworm

Subtitle: What’s Eating Susan’s Tomatoes

If you grow tomatoes, chances are you’ve had to deal with these pesky creatures. The tomato or tobacco hornworm starts life as tiny larva, but very quickly it can grow to 4 inches long and as thick as your index finger as it munches through your garden. One hornworm can defoliate an entire tomato plant if it isn’t stopped in time. The one you see here ate the top third of a 6-foot tall tomato plant overnight. That happened despite the fact that I check carefully 2 or 3 times a day; they cling to the undersides of leaves and their coloring makes them very hard to spot. You have to carefully track them by following the trail of eaten leaves and excrement that they leave behind.

Tomato Hornworm

Here’s a close up of this fellow continuing in his quest to eat my entire garden. They will eat right through the green tomatoes, too.

I bring this up because I have a question for all the vegan gardeners out there: What do you do about garden pests such as the hornworm?

Do you…

A. Pick them off and kill them?
B. Spray the plants with an organic pesticide like Bt, which ultimately kills them?
C. Drive them across town and release them in a vacant lot?
D. Put them in a tank, hand feed them tomato leaves until they grow to an enormous size and then release them across town in a vacant lot?

I have to admit to doing all of the above at one time or another. The only other option that I can think of would be to E. Allow them to eat all the tomato plants, which given the time and resources I’ve put into my garden, I just can’t do. So, what do others of you, who feel compassion for all living creatures, do when faced with a creature that just wants to eat your garden?

By the way, the creature above, whom E. named “Mr. Tingle” for some reason, was released in the empty field opposite our community swimming pool. That made E. very happy…and also, I suspect, some passing bird a very nice meal.

Domino defending the garden

Here’s Domino defending the garden from hornworms!

Coming tomorrow: What to cook for the Fourth of July.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Two September 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

You don't want these things left to munch on your tomato and pepper plants – they can eat a plant you have been growing for a couple months in a couple of days – and that's always heartbreaking to watch. Tossing the worms in soapy water works wonderfully. I have also used Neem oil, which sent them packing very quickly. Another benefit of Neem is that it's not harmful to many of the beneficial insects in the garden – bees, ladybugs, earthworms and butterflies. If you can't bring yourself to kill them, you can always use one or two tomato plants as the bug hotels in your garden – every time you find hornworms, move them to the (preferably far off) area where they are welcome to nosh unabated. This will mean much more worm picking for you in the long run, but if it makes you happier, go for it!

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2 Carolyn September 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm

My boyfriend and I just found one on my tomato plants this past weekend.
We put ours in a ziploc bag (with the branch it had been clinging to) and zipped it up and threw it away. I had read somewhere that a way to combat them organically was to sprinkle flour on the tomato plants. So….I busted out the flour. Now I’m wondering what other creatures from the flour I’ve released into my tomato plants. I’m new to gardening, though, and this year was just an experiment, but I’m really thrilled that I have a bunch of tomatoes growing that I want them to survive long enough to taste what I’ve grown.

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