Tomato Hornworm

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Tobacco Hornworm
Tobacco Hornworm

Over the last couple of years we have been expanding our gardens, but we have had to be creative because our backyard also shares space with three medium/large dogs that like to eat fresh vegetables especially green tomatoes. Due to our limited space I decided that I would go vertical and try out the Topsy Turvy that a friend gave us. I started a couple of heirloom (mortgage lifter) seeds in the house back in February, once I had a plant that was strong enough I transferred it into the Topsy Turvy with soil that was purchased at our local hardware store. The last two months it has been growing and blooming, but I started noticing that the leaves were disappearing. On closer inspection I found several caterpillars making a feast out of my plant.

Once I noticed these nasty little boogers devouring my plant I shared a picture on my Facebook page to find out for sure what they were. Thanks to my friends they confirmed that my pest was a tomato hornworm. I have never experienced the devastation that a hornworm can have on your crops so I began to do some research on them. According to organic gardening’s website there are two varieties of hornworm, the tomato and tobacco hornworm. They are easy to identify based on the stripes and the color of the horn on their rear end. On further inspection my hornworms were the tobacco variety based on the horn being a reddish color. Based on the information on Farmer’s Almanac’s webpage these caterpillars can devastate a crop very quickly. I am grateful that I found them early and was able to remove them before they caused too much damage. My one confusion is how did they get onto this particular plant?

Yellow Pear Tomato
Yellow Pear Tomato

I am currently growing three varieties of tomato. I have a yellow pear tomato that was a volunteer from last year’s garden that I transferred into a pot, I did this because I have had some nutrient problems because of the excessive rain we have had in Florida the last couple years. This plant has been growing and producing well for the last couple of months. After doing some research into how to add nutrients back into my raised beds I decided I would give a better boy tomato a shot and see if I could combine companion planting and watering with compost tea to get a tomato to survive in the ground. As soon as I discovered the hornworms on the one plant I then walked through the gardens inspecting all the plants, but especially the tomatoes, but didn’t find any more hornworms.

Better boy tomato
Better boy tomato

The hornworm tends to come from the soil and the eggs hatch and then begin devouring the plants. The recommendation to prohibit them is tilling the soil to kill the eggs and larvae before they have had a chance to grow. Apparently they eventually develop into a moth, since my hornworms were only on a plant that is not in the ground my only conclusion is that a moth laid eggs within the Topsy Turvy at some point. I was lucky to only have a few hornworms and was able to simply pick them off. My plant is now recovering and doing well. Contrary to our natural instinct allowing wasps to hang around the garden is a good thing, because they are a natural predator of hornworms, so if you prefer organic pest prevention ensuring that wasps patrol your gardens is a great natural way to prevent hornworm infestations. Other methods including companion planting with marigolds or botanical Bt are other options.

I would love to hear if anyone has a suggestion as to how the hornworm may have invaded my Topsy Turvy? Happy gardening everyone.

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