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VALLEY MUSINGS: Battling those garden pests

Donna Thompson
Sentinel columnist
Posted 8/21/22

“Guess what I found in the garden last night,” I said when my next-younger sister arrived for supper on a recent Monday. “Tomato worms,” I told her. “And I suppose I should be thankful to the little rabbit for helping me notice them.”

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VALLEY MUSINGS: Battling those garden pests

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“Guess what I found in the garden last night,” I said when my next-younger sister arrived for supper on a recent Monday.

“Tomato worms,” I told her. “And I suppose I should be thankful to the little rabbit for helping me notice them.”

My evening tour of the garden that Sunday evening had started as a simple walk around the outside of the fence to make sure all was in order, but when I started past the rows of green and wax beans, there was this little rabbit nibbling away at the leaves. 

“You get out of there!” I yelled, poking at the little thief with my walking stick.

The rabbit scooted under the leaves of the nearby summer squash plants. Clearly, I’d have to go inside the fence and chase it out.

I set the old shutter that serves as a gate against one of its supports and stepped inside.

The rabbit ran in among the tomato plants. 

We had played this little game before. The critter seemed to just disappear and I was unable to determine where it was getting in.

As I looked at the rows of tomatoes, my eyes went to the top of one of the vines and I noticed the end of the branch was rather denuded of leaves. We’ve had problems with tomato worms - technically hornworms - for the past few years and this looked like some of their work. I walked among the plants to take a closer look. 

My eyes traveled down the vine and there it was - a big, ugly green caterpillar, munching away at one of my tomato plants. The rabbit ceased to be my biggest concern. I had a bigger - well, more pressing - problem.

Back to the house I went, found a plastic container with a lid, filled it with water and some dish soap and returned to the garden.

As big and ugly as they are, tomato worms are notoriously difficult to spot. Something about their coloring and the way they cling tightly to the vines makes them blend in.

I had to look up and down the vine for several minutes before I located the offender so I could rip it off the vine and toss it into the water to drown. 

Then I moved on to take a closer look at the other plants. The end of another vine looked a bit bare of leaves as well and I was able to spot and remove a second fat, green worm.

If there were any more, I couldn’t find them, although I looked. Then I sprayed the plants with some kind of organic stuff. 

“Do tomato worms just pop out of a tiny egg, big and fat and ugly?” I asked my sister. That’s the only way we’d ever seen them.

She suggested they just eat a lot and grow rapidly.

She was probably right. When I returned to the garden Monday evening, I found a squirming little green worm with the stripes I’d come to associate with tomato worms. I grabbed it and dropped it into the fresh soapy water I’d carried with me. (I had dumped the other two into the creek earlier that day.) Another little worm met the same fate.

So, checking for tomato worms has become part of my garden routine, along with chasing that pesky rabbit, picking the beans that are quite visible among the chewed-off leaves, and harvesting zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes.

And I keep an eye on the woodchuck that munches on the lawn near the garden. All my garden needs is one more pest. 

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