Sow There! Check soil for tomato hornworms before winter 9-3-15



Tomato hornworm pupae looks somewhat leathery. They don’t move, but stay submerged under the soil until its time for the sphinx moth to emerge.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

We’re still saving water in many wacky and wonderful ways, but I must say I’m tired of this drought.

I drive with the passenger side window down because the glass is so dirty the sunshine causes a glare.

The bathroom smells like 1977 and I sniff the towels before I throw them in the washer.

Rinse water from the kitchen sink is dumped daily into the bushes, and I hope nobody sees me when I pad outside in my robe and slippers.


Even the plants have had enough.

The tomato plants in pots have started to turn brown.

We could try to squeeze a little more fruit from the vines, but the better choice is to rip them out and save a little water.

I’m going to give a thumbs-up to planting annual plants in 10-gallon fabric pots. The tomatoes did really well.

It may have helped that I used all store-bought soil instead of dirt from my yard.

For each batch, I used some bagged sphagnum peat moss, aged steer manure, organic compost and cheap topsoil. This was all mixed in a wheelbarrow before being tossed into the fabric pots.

Now that the vegetable season is done, I need to decide what to do with all that soil. The several bags of dirt cost me more than dinner and a movie.

One option is to rip out the tomatoes and immediately plop in some daffodil bulbs.


However, I’m thinking I should root around in the pots to ensure there are no hidden tomato hornworm pupae.

From all I have read, its important not to plant the same type of vegetable in the same place year after year.

One big reason for this is that tomato hornworm pupae could remain in the soil.

The pupae park it for the winter and emerge as the sphinx moth.

The moth is dramatically beautifully — the color of dark ash with streak of brown, and a wingspan of about four inches.

The problem is that the moth lays eggs on plants, the eggs turn into tomato hornworms and two tomato hornworms can eat an entire tomato plant in a day.

I’m not making this stuff up. You can read details from really smart bug geeks here:

Why are hornworms hated? Because they threaten something we value.

If I was taking a walk along a wooded path in Bidwell Park and saw a caterpillar, I would stop and behold it as a thing of beauty. I would move it from the path to a secluded location in the bushes, close to food. I’d even say a silent prayer for its safety from birds or wandering hiking boots.

Yet, if the a caterpillar is a tomato hornworm I’ll clip it in two with sharp garden shears.

The pupae, the equivalent of a cocoon, its a bit weird when first encountered.

The sleepers are about the size of your pinky and mummified/chestnut brown color.

The first time I saw one I thought I had unearthed a slightly decayed, leathery finger of a child.

Of course, you cut the defenseless critter in half. The first time you bisect one its also fun to see what’s inside. The guts are not very remarkable, but you’ll always wonder unless you see for yourself.

At some point in my decades of garden research, I heard that using a rototiller in the garden can eliminate more than 90 percent of tomato hornworms.

Of course, the sphinx moths from your neighbor’s yard can always fly to your place and leave a trail of offspring on the underside of your Solanaceous plants. Bad people could also pick the hornworms off their plants and toss them over the fence into your yard.

Here’s my plan.

I’ll take the 10-gallon fabric pots and dump the soil into a wheelbarrow. Then I’ll pick through with a garden fork and remove anything weird that I find. After that I can put the soil back into the fabric pots and plant something for the fall season.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.