The very hungry reclassified caterpillar

Not, in fact, a tomato hornworm.

tomato hornworm caterpillars

Last week I posted about the voracious caterpillars that decimated one of my tomato plants. I theorized, based on as close an identification as I could make, that it was a tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata.

Made sense. Fat, green guys with white stripes and brown spots? Check. Horns on their rear ends? Check. Munching on tomatoes? Check. My guys’ stripes weren’t as fat as the ones in the photo from the University of Minnesota Extension publication, but perhaps I had juveniles? Maybe after eating my entire plant, the stripes would grow as bloated as the rest of their bodies.

Not so fast. Enter iNaturalist, a fabulous nature-identification app that I’m in love with. Created as a joint project between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, it allows citizens to upload their observations and get critter identifications from other members. The data are shared with databases like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, so you can feel good about contributing to biodiversity science.

Everyone on the app piled on to correct me. I don’t have tomato hornworms, although my mistake is a common one. I have tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta. This link shows the differences very clearly. Tomato hornworms have V-shaped stripes and bluish- or black horns on their rear ends. Tobacco hornworms have white diagonal stripes bordered in black, and have red horns on their butts.

White stripes, red horns. Clearly, tobacco hornworms.

Treatment is the same: pick ’em off and feed them to hungry birds. I’m happy to report the sad, naked tomato stalk grew a few new leaves this week, so maybe it will pull through.

Here at MHM, we believe in science, so I wanted to correct the record. 🙂

Half baked

Friends, I’m hiding indoors until this heat wave passes.

 
I have much to do in the garden, but it will have to wait. It hasn’t rained in weeks, and the ground is cracked open wide. I miss the summers of my childhood, when it seldom reached 90 degrees and almost every evening, it seemed, brought a soothing, cooling thunderstorm. Lately I’ve been catching the dish-rinsing water in a pan and running outside to relieve the container plants from their exhausted state.
Since I remain indoors, my patio umbrella shades the tomatoes and squash from the midday sun. Providing some shade can help your vegetables struggle through the hottest days and last longer into the season, but keep making succession sowings and keep those plants well mulched and watered.

Talk to you soon, my friends. I need a frosty beverage.

Garden log, 2.8.15

Hurrah! Mother Nature says it’s time to plant the peas.

plant your peas copy

It’s important to wait until your soil is adequately warm to plant seeds or transplants. If it’s too cold and damp, the seeds will rot, or germination will be delayed. Don’t ask me how I learned these facts.

I planted ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ and ‘Cascadia.’ It’s always dicey, planting peas, because our springs can go from cool to blazing hot in just a couple of weeks. Fall crops tend to perform better, but I try every year for a good spring batch.

Planted some ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach, flat-leaf Italian parsley, and bok choi as well. Hope that harvest looks as good as this one.

Left to right: Arugula, lettuce ('Freckles') and bok choi.

Left to right: Arugula, lettuce (‘Freckles’) and bok choi.

A quick garden postcard: fresh January salad (and recipe)

Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

I peeked under my row cover yesterday to see how the greens are doing. What could be better than a fresh salad from the garden in January?

Lettuce grows quickly. This variety, ‘Freckles,’ can be harvested in 55 days from seed. The critical thing is to ensure it has steady moisture. With our unending rain, that hasn’t been a problem.

I’m going to toss this with a tablespoon each of dried cranberries and pecan pieces. I’ll top it off with some parmesan cheese, and dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I may throw in a few leaves of fresh thyme.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Zone 7 Gardeners, Start Your Seeds!

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 or warmer, it’s time to sow seeds (indoors) of

  • Onions
  • Hot peppers
  • Artichokes
  • Celery

If your onion seed is left over from last year, pitch it out. Onion and leek seed seldom remains viable longer than one year.

How to sow vegetable seeds:

  1. Fill a clean, sterile flat with a soilless mix. Ideally, choose one made for seed starting.
  2. Moisten the mix and tamp it down firmly.
  3. Sow the seed according to package directions.
  4. Cover lightly (if indicated) with sand, perlite, or grit to thwart damping off.
  5. Water lightly again.
  6. Cover with clear plastic and place in a warm, well-lit location.
  7. Monitor every day or so to maintain good moisture levels. When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic covering.

If you’re looking for good varieties to try, consult Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website. This citizen-science database includes reviews of thousands of vegetable varieties by gardeners across the country. You can filter results by your state, frost-free season, or soil texture.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

You won’t transplant these outside for some time yet, but these crops need an extra-long head start. Aren’t you glad you have some indoor gardening to do when it’s so cold and nasty outside?