It’s time to play every gardener’s favorite summertime game: Find the Hornworm. It’s a lot like Where’s Waldo, but with tomatoes at stake.
I bear hornworms a particular antipathy. Other pests seem so incidental. They exist out there in the world, and they’re hungry, so they eat your vegetables. But a hornworm is not incidental. It exists only to defoliate your tomato plants. It is so single-minded that it has evolved to look like the underside of a tomato leaf – and very successfully, I might add.
You know you have hornworms when you go out in the garden one morning and notice that your lovely, lush, leafy tomato plant branches are completely denuded. Then you notice poop that looks likes it’s from a creature much larger than a hornworm and you think, “Pterodactyl!” But no, those are extinct.
Hornworms, alas, are not extinct.
And let me go on record here being a big fan of extinction, properly applied. We’re always going around trying to save things from extinction – and I miss the dodo as much as the next guy – but let’s admit that the world would be a better place without some species. Hornworms, for example.
Once you figure out you have hornworms, that’s when the real fun starts. You stand in the garden, staring at the tomato plants, trying to figure out what is leaf and what is hornworm. It is surprisingly difficult. You go over a plant very carefully, find three hornworms, and move on to the next. Then you glance back and see another fat green worm. And another.
But finding them isn’t sufficient. You have to pull them off, and that is a disgusting job. They are very delicate and squishy, and if you squeeze them too hard, they will collapse into a mess of green goo between your fingers. But they also hold on tight, and you have to squeeze them pretty hard in order to pull them off.
It’s a disgusting job.
It’s gotten to the point where I bring our littlest turkey into the garden with me. When I find a hornworm, I just hold him (we now think it’s a him) up to it and he grabs it right off the vine. He seems to be much better at distinguishing worm from leaf than I am. The only problem is that he has a limited tolerance for this game. He likes hornworms – a lot – but prefers that I remove them myself and throw them out to him.
And that is the only fun part. Watching turkeys and chickens peck apart and gulp down a nice big hornworm gives me a last-laugh sense of justice. Okay, you green squishy bastards, you harnessed the magic of evolution to make yourselves look exactly like a leaf, but I’m going to harness the magic of barnyard alchemy to turn you into an egg.
How good are you at Find the Hornworm?