Category Archives: gardening at home

Tomato Horn Worms

If you missed the email with pictures of the tomato horn worm, here’s a link from Colorado State University with more pictures of horn worms in all stages of life.  If you visit this site and scroll about half way down the page, you’ll find an image of the horn worm egg on the underside of a leaf.  Obviously the best control would be to find the egg and destroy it before the caterpillar hatches.

I’m also including some images  of horn worms and their “frass”  found on my potato and tomato plants and some from the Y gardens.  Judging by the leafless stems on many of the tomato plants in the various plots, there are still a lot of horn worms on the loose.  Maybe we should offer a bounty for the most captured – should we post a “wanted – dead or alive” poster for this destructive guy?

The one shown on the dead leaf is about 2″ by .5″ diameter and is easy to see on the dead leaf.  However, on potato or tomato plants, they are really hard to spot. The images of what is known as insect “frass” (a scientific name for “poop”) are from a mature worm.    So if you see this on your plant leaves start hunting for the culprit.   When the worm first hatches, its “frass” will look like dirt on the leaves.  At that stage, the worm is less than 1/32″ in diameter.  In about 2 weeks it will grow to this big size shown and larger.  And guess what fuels that growth – your tomato plant leaves and tomatoes.  If you see stems on your plants that have been denuded, start looking for the “frass”.  It takes patience and some practice, but you can find the ravenous green monsters, lurking on a stem, under a leaf or even on a tomato.  If they have the eggs on their backs you should let them live so the beneficial parasitic wasps can hatch.  Otherwise, you can put it in a jar with some sacrificial leaves and wait for it to complete its life cycle.  It would be a great educational experience for your children.  Just make sure you release the moth a long way from the tomato and potato plants belonging to you and to your neighbors.  Or you can avenge yourself for the havoc wrought by squashing it.  I’ll warn you,  it’s messy!


Cooler full of veggies

It’s been about a week since  I visited my 3 community garden beds, bringing along a cooler for the veggies I picked.  My plot at WildWest Community Garden had a few onions ready to pull, a couple of peppers and two handfuls of basil.  ( I have since learned you should never pull onions, but rather dig them in order to prevent damage to the plant).

From there I went to the church gardens and harvested a bunch of chard, kale, more onions, a couple of carrots and a couple of small stalks of broccoli.  The cooler was full so I decided I’d come back another day to cut more chard and dig more onions.  As it turned out, I kept putting off cooking the chard and eventually had to throw it out which made me feel badly.

6-27-11 Water from just a couple days of rain

I also harvested more basil from my plant on the deck that has produced the largest, most amazing leaves.  I made another 1 cup batch of pesto with these leaves.  I also picked a few tiny, grape sized tomatoes.  My son and I discovered that the tub intended for sweet potato plants and that had been empty, was bulging with water from a couple days of rain.  I took the opportunity to make a few images of the potato blossom and the potato and tomato plants in containers on the deck.  The tomato plants on the deck look much better than the ones in my plot at the WildWest Community Garden.  I really think the biggest difference is the soil.  The plants in containers are in Miracle Gro Organic gardening soil and/or potting soil.

6-27-11 12 Kibets Ukrainian and one brandywine tomato lost to blossom end rot

I also removed 13 tomatoes, 12 from the Kibets Ukrainian plant.  All suffered from blossom end rot.  Unfortunately I don’t know whether I amended the soil with crushed egg shells as I had intended.  This is supposed to supply calcium.  The day I transplanted most of the tomatoes was so hectic that I forgot the egg shells when planting some of them.  Our abundant rain could also be the cause of the rot rather than a calcium deficiency. Guess it will remain a mystery.

On the one hand, the amount of food I have harvested so far is a rather disappointing amount considering the effort involved.  On the other hand, I also realize that a lot of the work was due to the fact that 2 of the 3 gardens were built from scratch.  Since it’s my first year to garden vegetables,  I’m definitely on the steep part of the learning curve.   I do feel like I’ve learned a lot. The most important knowledge I have acquired is that  I have so much more to discover.   Lessons learned will be another post.

Hope springs eternal!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

-Alexander Pope,
An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733

And apparently “hope springs eternal” in the breasts of gardeners.

One of the plants I started back in February from seeds saved in 2007 actually has tiny tomatoes on it.  Never mind that the largest fruit is about the size of a small marble.  They are definitely tomatoes.

6-1-11 Tiny tomatoes

Blossoms on same tomato plant

I’m not sure if it’s called “wild” or “wine” but I do remember  that the tomatoes were small, juicy, with lots of seeds.  Of all the tomato plants I started this year, this one seems to be the most resilient.   Although I started  about 7 heirloom tomato varieties from seeds, I broke down yesterday and bought an heirloom tomato plant, the Mortgage Lifter.  I love the story behind it’s beginning.  I planted it today between two other heirloom tomato plants at the WildWest Community Garden, at the risk of overcrowding.  I’ve been frustrated by the deterioration in health of the heirloom tomato plants I have planted.  I know it’s due to several  reasons – weather keeping them indoors way past when they were ready to be transplanted; lack of hardening off, intermittent cold/hot/windy/rainy weather once they were transplanted.  Still it’s hard to watch a plant that seemed so healthy seem to be closer to death each time you go to the garden.   I’m now wishing I had supplemented the soil at the garden with a potting soil when I planted the tomatoes.

In addition to the arrival of hot and humid days, we are in the midst of an amazing miracle – the return of 13 year cicadas.  Growing up in Texas, we collected the exoskeletons of the annual variety of these creatures which we mistakenly called locusts.  Apparently many people think that locusts and cicadas are the same insect.    I have been researching the question of whether the shed exoskeleton would make good fertilizer – they seem to be every where right now.  I’ve found some really interesting facts.  Here’s a short time lapse video of a cicada emerging from its exoskeleton.  The process takes over an hour; the video is just a couple of minutes.  It’s amazing to see the cicada emerge and its wings lengthen.  I also learned that there are 15 broods in this species and that cicadas are unique to North America.  The brood appearing now in Missouri is a 13 year brood, know as Brood 19 (XIX) or The Great Southern  Brood.  This brood encompasses all the states enclosed by Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Maryland.  These insects somehow miraculously appear from their juvenile state to their adult state to breed, lay eggs and die.

Yesterday I planted another pepper plant, some beautiful nasturtiums, some tiny parsley transplants that I started from seed, Kentucky Wonder pole beans and 3 sad looking sugar snap pea plants, as well as a 6 pack of yellow onions that were so crowded that they may not survive the forced separation necessary to actually plant them.    I harvested a few more greens and a couple of onions and probably the only broccoli I’ll have before it bolts.

6-1-11 onions and greens

6-1-11 broccoli & greens

It’s difficult to be patient and maintain optimism while waiting for plants to grow and produce, so I’m thankful for the appearance of the tiny tomatoes on my plants.  While I’m waiting, I’ll enjoy the Early Girl tomatoes grown in hot houses by our local farmers and appreciate the fruits appearing on other gardener’s plants, like these from the WildWest Community Garden, that I photographed last week.

tomatoes at WW garden, plot #22

Summer is on it’s way! Last night at 8:15 pm I saw my first lightning bugs!

I have always loved lightning  bugs, aka fire flies.  As a child in Texas, we entertained ourselves for hours on hot summer nights, chasing lightning bugs, putting them in mason jars and watching them blink.

  (Image courtesy of

Watching lightning bugs and blowing soap bubbles are two activities that bring out the child in me.   For many years, the appearance of lightning bugs was synonymous with the arrival of summer.  Over time, as an adult, I realized that they seemed to have disappeared from my summer evenings.  When we moved to a home on a half acre lot adjacent to 25 acres of vacant land in Dalworthington Gardens, TX, I was excited to rediscover these delightful beetles.  At some point, probably about 1990, we suffered with fleas from our cat going in and out and I had our yard sprayed.  Suddenly it seemed that the fireflies disappeared from our yard.  This experience  led me to re-examine my acceptance of common pesticides and herbicides.  Since then, I’ve reached the point where I don’t use any of these garden chemicals.

Since moving to Missouri in 2006, the appearance of fire flies each May has marked the beginning of summer, with dinner enjoyed on the deck many evenings.  I was excited to witness the reappearance of our lightning bugs, especially in light of the fact that we were under tornado watch 323, and knowing that Joplin, MO had just been hit by a tornado.  Waking this morning  to the developing story of rescue and recovery in Joplin, I appreciate these simple joys of life even more.     Looking at NDC historical data on tornadoes, there have been an average of 8 F2-F5 tornadoes each year in Missouri.  I seems like the state has already had that many to date this year.