The scene - our high tunnel. Home of some beautiful tomatoes and green beans in October. The tomatoes are on the left, the yellow box holds some green beans we were picking... in case you want to know.
We found this beautiful Black Krim tomato. It tasted pretty darned good too. All is right with the world. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. The farmers are happy.
Suddenly, a scream chases thoughts of pleasant work in a sun-enhanced enclosure on a mildly chilly day. What could possibly be wrong?
Ok, now wait a minute. You are ruining the mood with your questions. We are not going to tell you who screamed or how they screamed. Seriously... no, we aren't telling.
Look.. It's a metaphorical scream. Just a symbol of the unhappiness felt by this discovery. Ok? No one actually screamed. yeeesh.
NOOOOO! The horror! Defoliated leaves on the tomatoes. It is awful. Horrifying! Whatever has done this?
And it gets worse!
The farmers' let out a collective gasp as the magnitude of the situation sinks in. It is not just the loss of some leaves. That loss, while disturbing and less than positive, is not the end of the world. The plants are nearing the end of their life cycle as temperatures sink lower each night. It is the loss of ripening fruit that hits home.
Who is responsible for this reprehensible behavior? Is it the butler? The maid? Professor Peacock in the solarium with a megaphone?
An excellent summary resource about tomato hornworms (larva for hawkmoths) can be found here: http://www.vegedge.umn.edu/vegpest/hornworm.htm
How do we handle the hornworm on the farm?
We have had very little issue with hornworm damage in the past. But, then again, we have not grown in the high tunnel all that long. The high tunnel provides a beautiful location for a late hatching. We look for hornworm damage and then look for the hornworms themselves. Once found, we pull them off the plants. If we are feeling ambitious, we take them to the turkeys. If we are not, we find that they do not survive a quick compression with the sole of a shoe. (step on it)
Green tomatoes damaged by hornworms should just be pulled off the plant - especially earlier in the year. this allows the plant to focus on other fruit.
Note - you will find that hornworms can grip the plant or leaf in a way that it could be difficult to pull them off. They may startle you a bit as they curl towards your fingers - and there is a bit of an 'ick' factor for many people. They will pinch you a bit if you carry them any distance (as we do when we take them to the turkeys), but it is more startling than painful. They cannot do any permanent damage to you. And they certainly cannot do the damage you can do to them.
Parasitic wasps - If you find white growths on the worm, you probably should find a way to let the worm live by moving it somewhere you can tolerate it. This will increase the parasitic wasp population. Thus, building up a natural control. thus far, we have not noticed any of this on hornworms we have found. Sad.