Natural Pest Control

We’re having a great tomato crop this year, which is a welcome relief after losing almost all of last year’s crop to blight.  Our old-fashioned heirlooms are difficult to grow, but they’re the best tasting tomatoes in the world.  So obviously they’ve been popular with our customers and we’ve been eating like royalty.

Blight is starting to rear its ugly head again, and the harvest will probably be cut short of a full season.  We have another garden of tomatoes on the way though and it should start producing soon.  Hopefully we’ll have tomatoes all summer.

With tomatoes, plant disease is a much bigger problem for us than pests.  But there are pests, the worst of which is the hornworm, which can do a lot of damage.

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When I was growing up I knew these as tobacco worms.  Tobacco is a nightshade, like tomatoes, and these worms love feasting on tobacco leaves as well.

Hornworms camouflage well.  The easiest way to find them is to look for damage to the plants and the worms’ droppings, which are easily recognizable.

Often I’ll find a hornworm that looks like this.

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The white cocoons were made by parasitic braconid wasp larvae. The wasps lay eggs under the skin of the worm.  After hatching, the larvae emerge, build their cocoons and consume the hornworm.

We remove hornworms when we find them.  If a worm has these cocoons on it, I remove it carefully from the plant and drop it outside the garden so as not to harm the wasp larvae

Nature’s hornworm control.   No posions necessary.

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6 comments on “Natural Pest Control

  1. shoreacres says:

    Those wasp larvae are fascinating and creepy, all at the same time. I just commented on another blog about seeing a cicada leaving its shell. It looked for all the world like something you’d see in a grade B horror movie. So does this. Maybe some of the screenwriters have gotten their ideas from nature.

    This was my first year to enjoy heirloom tomatoes, and my goodness, they are good. I’m glad your crop was good. That’s a real business-builder!

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    • Bill says:

      Definitely creepy. Nature can be brutal sometimes (often, actually).

      It’s hard to beat a garden-ripened heirloom tomato. Really glad you were able to enjoy some of them this year. 🙂

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  2. Jeff says:

    My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked up “tomato hornworm moth” on Wikipedia and learned some interesting factoids. The hornworms that attack tomatoes aren’t the same species as the hornworms that attack tobacco. The article also said that planting marigolds next to tomato plants helps reduce the hornworm populations. That reminded me of an article I read somewhere that touted the advantages of interplanting lots and lots of veggies without rows. Apparently, the scents of the different plants get mixed up so bugs have a hard time locating their favored host plant. I’ve observed that here. On my property, I have a small bush called fiddlewood (citharexylum fruticosum). Specimens that are on the edge of the woods get their leaves destroyed by a caterpillar while those back in the woods don’t suffer so much damage. Of course, interplanting lots of veggies makes it hard to harvest them for market …

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    • Bill says:

      Interesting. I had no idea they were different. They look exactly the same to me so I just assumed they were.

      I’ve read about gardeners who mix their vegetables all together, thus better replicating nature. I like the concept but it would complicate harvesting.

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  3. avwalters says:

    I didn’t know about the braconid wasps on tomato hornworms. I know that chickens love them–always a convenient solution to a garden pest.

    To keep our tomatoes blight free, we’ve always pruned to allow for better air circulation.

    I’m glad an earlier commenter pointed out that tobacco and tomato hornworms are different. It makes me wonder what adaptation was necessary for them to tolerate the nicotine levels in tobacco?

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve never pruned tomatoes, but I know that is recommended. I need to learn more about it.

      All nightshade leaves are toxic to humans (if I’m not mistaken). But not to hornworms obviously. But they only eat tobacco and tomatoes, to the best of my knowledge. Potatoes, peppers and eggplants have different pest issues.

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