The Monster


Our main garden didn’t do so well this year. Due to the excessive rain we were late getting the plants in the ground. Although there were a few days I could actually get out there and hoe, primarily even that chore wasn’t done as it was either raining, or the garden was so muddy, one swipe of the hoe would pull out the plants along with the grass and weeds. As for the amount of water, the grass and weeds loved it and grew prolifically, but the tomatoes, squash and other vegetables ended up molding or dropping from too much water.

At that point, weeding the garden became a hazard. Some of the grass in the rows and between the plants were over a foot high, which is a great hiding place for all the Monsters most people call snakes, mice and other critters that were displaced from their normal homes due to high water. Trying to work in a garden while wearing a suit of armor just didn’t work well, so we finally threw up our hands and gave up. My one consolation was that I had planted my flowerbed with a row of Yellow Pear Tomatoes, interspersed with Basil. That flower bed has excellent drainage and I smiled every time I passed by and saw healthy green tomato plants growing profusely. The best part about it was that it was easy to weed, and you could spot a snake in a split second.

And then one day while tying up the shoots, I noticed one of the leaves seemed to be cut smoothly off from the shoot. My eyes immediately jumped to the leaves of the basil plant below it. Sure enough. Three tiny black specks rested in the curl of a leaf. I knew without a doubt The Monster had arrived.

In a matter of a minute, I ran off and collected a small bucket and began my Monster hunt. This Monster is very good at hiding, as it camouflages itself to blend in well with the plant. It isn’t but about four inches in length, but it can hang upside down, has suction-cupped feet and can destroy a tomato plant in less than an hour. It multiplies in the blink of an eye, and where one is there will be millions. Or, at least, seemingly millions. And there is only one way to truly destroy it.

The Monster to us is called a Tomato Hornworm in other languages. This ‘worm’ is actually the larva of the Five Spotted Hawkmoth. It is a bright green, has lighter green to white vertical or V-shaped stripes down each side and a ‘horn’ on its rear end. If the stripes are V-shaped and the horn is black, it is a Tomato Hornworm. If it has vertical stripes and the horn is red, then it is a Tobacco Hornworm. The suction-cupped feet allow it to hang upside down to better blend in with the plant. On the other end, they have a cartoonish shaped mouth that has what looks like puffy white teeth on the outside of the lips. I’m not 100% sure these are actually teeth, but to me, it doesn’t really matter.   This Monster has to go.

You can literally spend hours looking for this Monster, but one of the quickest ways to spot the first one is by those little black specks on a leaf below. If you can find the specks, then look straight upwards for a starting point. Work outward in a circular pattern and you should spot it. To remove it, grasp the stem or leaf with one hand, and with very gentle fingers on the other, pull the worm off the plant. You want to do this carefully because you don’t want gooey green gunk on your hands. Repeat this method, carefully examining each branch of each plant, until you are relatively sure you have gotten them all. Then take your bucket and expose the Monster to its kryptonite. Chickens.

The exorbitant amount of glee I take emptying a bucket of Tomato Hornworms in the chicken yard is directly relational to the amount of hate I feel when I see my beautiful tomato plant half eaten by these monsters. I love to watch my chickens in a frenzied scramble to attack them, rip them in half and gobble them up. There is a skip in my step to know that even the worst of the Monsters can be eliminated from an otherwise peaceful environment.

The Farm Wife: 52. Tomato Hornworms: 0. At least, for now. I’m still searching, because this morning, I found another place where one could be. In the infamous words of my pal Elmer Fudd, “Shhh……be vewy, vewy quiet.” This Farm Wife is on the hunt.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm.She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

2 thoughts on “The Monster”

  • Very nice, if somewhat scary article. At least the hens got some protein. 52 horn worms, yech! Up here the count is 54 chipmunks, 6 gray squirrels, 6 red squirrels and a woodchuck. I think the worms would be worse. Gary

    • I’ll be happy to trade you a few worms for the squirrels and a chipmunk or two. You can keep your woodchuck, though! It doesn’t really matter where you live – there will always be some kind of Monster you’ll have to deal with. Hey, Gary! I’ll even ship you a gator or two, free of charge! 🙂

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