How to Grow: Tomato Hornworms

Learn about controlling tomato hornworms organically in your garden.

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There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about insects as food. In many parts of the world insects are a common delicacy. Its estimated that 2 billion people around the globe regularly eat insects. And why not? They’re a great source of protein and there certainly are lots of them. While I did dabble in eating ants in Thailand in the Peace Corps many years ago, there’s one insect in Caterpillar, Tomato, Hornworm, Garden, Insect, Wormmy garden I’d love a recipe for. It’s the tomato hornworm.

This time of year tomato hornworms are attacking tomatoes, nicotiana, peppers and solanaceous weeds. This caterpillar can grow up to 6 inches long. It’s actually the larval form of the gray-brown, hawk or sphinx moth we often see buzzing around flowers in summer. With a 4 to 5 inch wingspan, this moth isn’t hard to miss.

The hornworm population builds all season and we usually start really seeing them in late summer. Since they’re well camouflaged, it’s often shocking to run into a tomato hornworm on a tomato branch munching away. I can swear I can almost here them crunching on the leaves with their sharp teeth! Actually they aren’t harmful to us, but can defoliate a tomato plant pretty quickly.

To control this green pest, hand pick individuals and drop them in soapy water. For big infestations you can also spray Bacillus thuriengensis or Bt on the plants to kill them. Of course, you could grill up a batch of fried green tomato hornworms for dinner, too.

If you happen to see white protrusions on the back of your hornworm, leave them. These are the cocoons of the braconid wasp. It’s a parasitic wasp that will kill the hornworm once they hatch and infect more hornworms.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio


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