Tomatoes for Ma

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“Ma took charge of the day’s work for the rest of them, and best of all Laura liked the days when she said, ‘I must work in the garden.'”  (Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie, 8).

It always brightens my day to know that gardening is on my “to-do” list!  I can only imagine how Laura felt after The Long Winter, to be out working in the garden again: digging in the dirt, planting, tending, and harvesting.  There is something calming and grounding about the cycle of gardening.

I would continue to garden-even if I could only grow tomatoes.  If tomatoes were the last fruit on earth, I would plant them in abundance!  So, when the pests roll into town and attempt to disrupt my supply, I have to do as Ma Ingalls did, and get to work in the garden.

So, today let’s talk about the tomato green horn worm (Manduca quinquemaculata), shall we?  It’s a pest that, if left on it’s own, can decimate your plants in a few days time.  It also feeds on some varieties of peppers, so check those too!  You remember the “very hungry caterpillar,” right?  I’m convinced it was a horn worm.  Let me introduce you:

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He’s a master camouflage artist.  Look again:

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Here’s some tell-tale signs that you’ve got a horn worm problem on your hands.  First, sticks where there should be foliage:IMG_0434

Second, ahem, poop (droppings, pellets, etc. etc.).  This used to be your plant:

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What’s a Ma to do?  Whip out your defenses!

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First, find all the live caterpillars you can and kill them.  They usually hang out at the very ends of branches.  See those gardening scissors?  Just go ahead and snip the hungry buggers right in half.  It’s gross, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Alternatively, hire small children (ideally your own) to pluck and squish them for monetary compensation per worm (at our house these guys go for 25-50 cents each).  The very best time to find these worms is in the morning or evening.

Second, get yourself some B.t., which is short for Bacillus thuringiensis.  Spray the foilage of your plants.  B.t. is a bacterium, rather than a pesticide, which is why it is approved for organic gardening methods.  According to the bottle, you can apply it up to the day of harvest (read and follow all labels and directions yourself before application and harvest, please!).  The short of it is this: the worms eat the sprayed foilage and get a nasty, deadly case of indigestion.  No more hungry caterpillars.  Ma can go back to her tomato eating and preserving.  More on that tomorrow…

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Categories: Gardening, Pest Control

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