July is Here: It's Time to Start Cooking

This week...the hidden tomato hornworm, composting, and a divine chocolate cake. As the summer kicks off its time to start processing the yields of your garden. Both the veggies in your kitchen and the waste products in your compost pile.

Tomato Hornworm

This week's spotlight is on the Tomato Hornworm, another hungry caterpillar.

Hornworms are the most distinctive life stage of the five-spotted hawkmoth Manduca quinquemaculata (say that five times fast). They are quite common in southern New England, and we get them on our tomatoes nearly every year.

Because of their extraordinary camouflage, you might notice them first via large, round, dark green droppings and badly eaten leaves on your tomato plants. They've been known to munch other nightshade veggies like peppers and potatoes, but tomatoes are their favorite. Once you spot the worm, you'll wonder how you could've missed it! You might also wonder if it crawled out of the lab of a visiting alien spaceship.

Tomato hornworms can grow to 3-4 inches in length and eat voraciously. Left unchecked a few of them can ravage your plants quickly. But, if you are attentive to signs of their presence, all you need to do is remove and dispose of them. You can drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or just squish them (yes, their insides are as colorful as their outsides)

There is one time you should NOT remove a hornworm and that's when it looks like this:

Those little white grains of rice are actually the pupal stage of the small braconid wasp, Cotesia congregatus, which predates hornworms as a parasite. When they hatch, they will actually eat the hornworm and go on to lay their eggs on another worm to begin the cycle anew. These guys are on our side, so let them do their thing!

For a brief, clear, very helpful guide to tomato hornworms, click here.