• Andrew Nielsen


Updated: Jul 18, 2020

OK, so, I want anyone who might read this blog to get the sense that I do not consider myself an expert gardener or farmer. I mean for this blog to be a place where fellow small-time vegetable gardeners can commiserate with me as I experience problems and tribulations that I do not have an answer for. I DO want to always continuously learn and I am trying to read as much as possible about botany and physics and organic chemistry and I will share some of the things that I learn that I think are relevant to having a backyard farm. But today I have a topic that I really don't know too much about yet. That's why this is "Episode 1". Future episodes will hopefully involve good advice on handling the problem of the Tomato Hornworm.

So yesterday, I went out to inspect my garden and I noticed that some of the branches on three of my tomato plants had leaves missing:

The first time that this happened to me, many years ago, I had no idea what the heck was going on. Was it a disease? Was it deer? Well eventually I discovered the horrible truth. It was a giant, disgusting, alien-looking creature that I was extremely frightened by. The Tomato Hornworm. Since I had a suspicion that Tomato Hornworms were back and attacking my tomato plants, I started looking for them and I found three:

Now, I hope that you can spot the hornworm in the middle of the photo above, clinging to a stem. And I guess using the word "hope" gets to an important point - they can be really hard to find since their green color almost perfectly matches the color of the tomato plants' stems and leaves. In this case, all three of the hornworms that I found were attacking "Celebrity" variety tomato plants. I also have Goliath and Burpee "Independence Day" tomato plants but did not find any hornworms on them.

I think that Tomato Hornworms are big and ugly looking creatures and to be honest the first time that I saw them I was scared of them. The photo below gives a closer look at one of the hornworms that I removed from a plant yesterday:

When I found them yesterday, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to share a potential pitfall with fellow gardeners. I had tomato plants devastated by hornworms in previous years because it took me way too long to figure out why the leaves were disappearing. If you have a mature plant and you see branches that look like they have been stripped clean of their leaves, look for these green monsters clinging to the stems of your plants. It does take some diligence because they do blend in well with the foliage and stems. But I was able to find three on my plants and they were very easy to remove. The hornworms were extremely slow, almost completely motionless even after I picked them off. I took photos of the damage to my plants and when I went out for inspection today, there did not seem to be any further damage (in other words, I think that I got them all). I will stay alert though and continue to thoroughly inspect my plants. And if you're wondering, yes I did crush them.

I will return to this topic because I am honestly pretty fascinated by it. I am aware that the hornworms are a developmental stage of a moth. But that is pretty much all I know so far. How did they get in my garden? How could they have gotten to this giant size (about three-quarters the size of an adult pinky) without me having noticed anything before? Is there anything that I can do to prevent this? Hopefully I will answer these questions in future episodes...

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