Tuesday, July 12

the great hornworm menace of 2011

I'm presently in the middle of a battle.  This is an historic moment - this battle represents my first encounter as a fledgling gardener with anything close to a real gardening-related menace.

I have certainly experienced the occasional gardening-related irritant over the past couple of years: rotting zucchinis, slumping pepper plants, split tomatoes, inexplicably minuscle jalapenos, shriveled guajillos*, more stubbornly yellow leaves than you could really effectively shake any kind of stick at, skyrocketing water bills, and my dog with her great clumsy paws and her predilection for things that smell like manure.  But these pale in comparison to what I'm now experiencing.  Because there are hornworms.

Ah! General Hornworm, I presume!
 I discovered them yesterday morning and have since removed twelve from the monster Brandywine tomato plant that is five-and-a-half feet tall and has put out thousands of flowers but refuses to produce actual tomatoes. Twelve doesn't sound like many, but I know there are more than that. These puppies are incredibly difficult to spot. I probably spent forty minutes just finding twelve.  Every few hours I muster up my strength and go hornworm-hunting again.  And every time I do, I find a couple more.  

I've done some research on these guys, and I think what I have are not tomato hornworms but tobacco hornworms (on account of their red horn).  People on the internet have told me to put them in a cup of water, slice them in half with gardening shears, feed them to birds, encourage wasps to parasitize them, and spray them with Bacillus Thuringiensis which kills them by causing gut paralysis and subsequent starvation combined with tissue damage.

I have opted to hold a plastic flower pot under each hornworm and snip off the leaf it's sitting on.  Then I take it out to the front yard and throw it into the garbage bin there.  I'm not yet sure how successful my method will be because these hornworms might have vastly larger reservoirs of willpower than I give them credit for.  For all I know, armies of hornworms are presently advancing upon my tomato plants, having survived the heat and somehow scaled the smooth walls of the trashcan.  They might have tiny drums and tiny bugles and tiny tattered flags and a tiny hornworm general (General Hornworm) and tiny night vision goggles, for all I know.

We might wind up in an all-out war before the week is through.

* Not a euphemism.

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