Thursday, September 1, 2011

Caterpillars again

Gidget fired me yesterday for focusing too much on worms and not enough on raising some actual food like chickens but she quickly rehired me because Frijole, who is bigger than she is, immediately tried to move in and take over her garden. 

Frijole ready to take over Gidget's Garden
I was happy to have my job back and have been spending time going through and pruning and preening everything in the garden as I plan for the upcoming fall season. There are lots of beautiful moths and butterflies visiting the garden right now and I love to see them but their offspring are a threat to our food.

A lovely visitor
While I was pruning yesterday, I noticed the tell tale signs of another caterpillar infestation.

Caterpillar poop on leaf in back left and holes in leaf in front
"Oh No! Not again!"
We had a problem with caterpillars back in June but we got them under control at that time with one application of BT which is an organic method for controlling caterpillars and then continuing to hand pick the survivors. BT is a bacteria, sort of like a probiotic, that the caterpillars can't tolerate. Last night we started by trying to hand pick the little buggers but there were too many of them and I didn't like the type of caterpillar I was seeing.

I can't be certain but I am afraid this may be the dreaded tomato hornworm
Tomato hornworms can get huge and I have heard stories from many a gardener about how destructive they are and how quickly they can wipe out your entire crop of precious tomato plants. I am not sure if this is a very young tomato hornworm or another type of caterpillar but it didn't look good to me.

We also found a different type of caterpillar in our hand picking quest.
This caterpillar had pincers on the end that looked like they would be very good at slicing through the leaves and fruit on my plants. I decided it was time to pull out the BT again.
Safer brand caterpillar killer is the one I use
I sprayed the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants because as I was inspecting, I saw damage and caterpillar poop on all of those varieties. I was careful to avoid blossoms and any beneficial bugs that were present. I sprayed at night using my trusty headlight so I could see what I was doing.

We have some gorgeous looking green fruit on our tomato plants right now
I hope this one application of BT will get the caterpillars under control enough so we can go back to hand picking them and eventually eat some of these fantastic looking tomatoes.

"Chickens might help you out with this issue. Just sayin..."


  1. Yikes! That sure looks like a tomato hornworm! And those disgusting things can gobble up a tomato plant in nothing flat. Good thing you caught them early and took care of the problem. I agree...hand picking is best. But when you have a lot of plants, it becomes impossible to hand pick all of the caterpillars, so a judicious spray of Bt is a good way to get rid of the creatures that will potentially destroy your garden. I've had trouble with caterpillars on my beans lately, and that's something I haven't dealt with before. We've had some bean leaf beetles this year, and I can put up with some of those, since adult bean plants can stand some damage and will keep on producing. But now I'm seeing what I assume are the larvae of the bean leaf beetle, and as you know, caterpillars are voracious eaters! With so many beds of beans, there was no way I could ever look through all of the plants and hand pick the caterpillars, so I gave those beds a quick and judicious shot of Bt...hopefully enough to control the caterpillars. I don't like using it, but I also can't let my plants be totally destroyed. I'm willing to allow some damage...but not complete devastation! And the caterpillars were not only eating the leaves, they were also munching on quite a few of the beans. So...enough is enough! Hope your caterpillar problem is soon a thing of the past!

  2. Awwwwwwww.... The kitties are so cute! My biggest harvest is in the bucket of crap I have tossed all of my blossom rotten, bug eaten, over watered, veggies. I did manage to pick a few cherry tomatoes and a Roma today. I ate them right off the vine before one of those horrid bugs got them. I'm sticking to my flowers, enjoying my shared food from a lovely friend and buying from the most horrible Albertsons. That's all i have to say about that.