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A Bumper Tomato Crop -- Not!

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Vegan Planet: A Bumper Tomato Crop -- Not!

Friday, July 29, 2011


A Bumper Tomato Crop -- Not!

The lone tomato in the above photo constitutes our entire tomato crop this year.  Seriously.  How is this possible, you might ask.  I know it sounds inept, gardening-wise, but here's what happened...

We've always enjoyed growing vegetables, even when we had only a small garden in Virginia Beach, so when we moved to the country a few years ago, we had visions of row after row of all our favorite produce, ripe for the picking. Boy, were we naive.

The first couple of years we managed to grow some decent tomatoes and green beans.  Our herbs were fantastic.  The lettuce, spinach, and other greens were amazing, too -- what little we actually got to eat of it.  To the rabbits, deer, and other wildlife who share our property, our vegetable garden was their all-you-can-eat buffet.  The following year was much the same, as we tried to pick at least a small portion of the produce before everyone else got to it.  Then came a drought, and everything basically dried up -- even our wonderful blackberries. It was discouraging. (At least I still had some blackberry coulis in the freezer from the previous year's harvest.)

Long story short, this year we decided we'd had enough of gardening disappointment.  Aside from an herb garden, all we planted were a few tomato plants in pots on the deck.  We figured this was a safe bet since none of the animals really bothered our tomato plants anyway, and they'd be less likely to venture up onto the deck.

Over the last several weeks our tomato plants were doing well.  They greened, grew, and became heavy with tomatoes, a few were just starting to turn red.  Then one day last week I did a double-take.  ALL of the tomato leaves were GONE.  Bitten off, leaving just little stubs of stems.  Looking closer, I saw that some of the tomatoes were bitten into as well.  A bite here and a bite there -- just enough to ruin all of them! It seemed like a practical joke. The bite marks didn't look like they came from any animal I recognized.  Then I saw the culprit, clinging to what was left of one of the plants.  I was too flustered to get the camera and have since missed other opportunities to snap a photo, so I found this photo of the perpetrator online to show you:

A giant green caterpillar like this (only ours is even bigger, if you can believe it) has eaten into all of our tomatoes -- all but one. A consolation: we think he is going to metamorphose into a Spicebush Swallowtail (pictured below). On the other hand, it appears that we will never metamorphose into gardeners.
EDIT:  I take back the assumption that it was going to be a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.  Knowledgeable readers have informed me that it is probably a tomato hornworm.  Yikes! (although there was no horn on the one I saw).
We plan to feast on our lone tomato this evening.  At least we got one tomato out of our "bumper" crop!  Sometimes it's those little victories...
UPDATE:  So we ate our lone tomato, and guess what?  It wasn't even that good.  So go ahead and eat the tomatoes, you caterpillars!  I'll get mine from the farmer's market.


Oh Robin-that is sad and funny all at once. I'm afraid my gardening skills are in line with yours-thank God for the farmers market! :-)
I know, Lisa -- I don't know whether to laugh or cry! I'd be lost without the Farmer's Market. I bring home such beautiful vegetables and think, wow, I could have grown these, if only I had a green thumb!
We've always grown enough tomatoes to eat them every day all summer. I make sauce or scones or chole or something every day. This year the heat has been extreme and you would think our tomatoes would be happy, but the squirrels ate a lot before they even turned red and we've only had a few left for us. It is sad. It makes me appreciate our local organic farms even more!
I feel your pain. Two weeks ago I found over 50 cutworms in a small 2x2 square foot area of my garden that had a mix of lettuces. They pretty much wiped it out. They've stayed away from the tomatoes this year though. I surrounded all the tomato plants with garlic and onions. Supposedly that wards away the moths from laying their eggs. I hope so.
Ah, the tomato (or tobacco) hornworm! You have to find them first, which is very difficult since they are the exact same color as the tomato stalks they are eating. Then pluck them off and kill them (sorry!). I think next year I am going to plant things I have a hard time finding in organic form at the farmers market, like bok choy, fennel, poblanos, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and the like, and just buy the things that are common at the market.
I just shared what might be our only tomato of the season tonight! We have several healthy looking tomato plants, but none of them are sporting flowers at this late point in the game. Perhaps we'll get some zucchini? The deer, groundhogs, and raccoons have loved all of our collards and kale on offer. But like you said, at least there's the farmers market! :)
I hear you! This was not a great tomato year for me, but I'm really excited about my ladypeas/crowder peas that are growing in abundance.
Every year I pin my hopes on tomatoes and rarely get enough to make the endeavor worthwhile. Last year I thought we had it made, then within a few days all the tomatoes got blight and died. We're hoping for at least a basket full this season, but they're still green so it can go either way. Gardening has many twists and turns. Thanks for sharing your story!
Oh no! Well, at least it was a well fed little critter. Too bad you can't come to an agreement where he only munches on the one tomato and leaves you the rest!

I'm trying to get a small veggie garden started myself, but so far I haven't been able to even get that far.
Sorry to hear of your small vegetables have multiplied in size after adding to the soil large amounts of cow manure. This addition to the soil has made all my vegetables grow in huge amounts. I get so many of them that I have to give a lot of them away after canning a lot of them.
I think Paige is right- tomato hornworm would make more sense. Here's some more info, including several ways to control them:
They are moths and do not turn into butterflies. Tomato plants are not a larval plant for the spicebush swallowtail so you won't be hurting any butterflies: (Butterflies get all the love; poor moths.) ;)
I'm sure you all are correct about it not being a swallowtail, although that's what it looked like in my butterfly book!
And I didn't see a horn on it -- are there tomato "hornless" worms??
I still can't believe how big it was -- about 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Sheesh!
What a bummer! I am starting a vegetable garden now. I really hope those green critters stay away. right now I have only seen ants and it's been about a month.
hey girl don't give up on your toms eh? growing veggies is like that.....hope you try again next year, anyways, don't let those caterpillars get you ;)
growing veggies is NOT about having green thumbs...its just trial and error, and common sense, and reading up .....sometimes you can do EVERYTHING right and yet....the weather lets you down....
big fuzzies from netherlands and keep writing and grow veg!!!
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