Hornswoggled By Hornworms
by Kay Vaughn
(Oklahoma City, OK, U.S.A.)
Two years ago, I moved from a city residence to a new suburb of Oklahoma City, on land which, until recently, was home to alfalfa fields, thoroughbred horses, and (apparently) all manner of wild creatures. I see foxes, mountain lions, hoot owls, and tarantulas on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, I also see herds of hornworms.
Last summer, my garden was infested with them. I didn't notice the fluorescent green, horned mammoths on my tomato and pepper plants until they were the diameter of a pencil and about two inches long. I only noticed that the leaves of my gorgeous plants looked as if they had been through a thrasher. Later in the year, however, the worms looked like caterpillars on steroids --- four inches long and the diameter of a skinny sausage.
Initially, I removed the creatures from the plants, put them in a styrofoam cup with a tomato leaf snack, and placed them carefully in the trash barrel for a pleasant ride to the dump. When I ran out of styrofoam cups, I began a slinging ritual every morning. You know --- prying them loose from the plant with salad tongs and heaving them over the back fence.
They would give me a plaintive look and hang onto the tomato branch for dear life. I worried that the impact on the other side of the fence might be giving them a concussion, so I decided to put the daily horde into paper bags and transport them down the road to an empty field.
Understandably, this became a nuisance, so I decided that, since I had already done my bit to preserve the hornworm population for posterity, I would simply tug them from the plant (no mean feat), place them gently on the lawn, and cut them in half with a pair of worm-designated scissors.
Did you know that half a worm functions in approximately the same way that a whole worm does? I found that I had to cut them again into fourths. Since they have faces and green jello guts, the whole process nearly gave me a coronary each morning.
This year, I've decided to buy a product called Bt, a bacillus purported not to be toxic to humans or domestic animals, and spray the heck out of them. I may wipe out an entire generation of hornworms, but I'll justify it by being kinder to stink bugs and yellow jackets.
We do what we can do.