Tomato Hornworms Are Back

The week before last I saw the first few Tomato Hornworms in our garden. I was able to take care of them pretty quickly by picking off the first two or three.

Today they came back with a vengeance.  I found Hornworms all over our tomatoes. Here’s the first batch I “harvested” from the plants:

The first batch of today's Tomato Hornworms.

There are a few alternatives  you can use to get rid of Hornworms these include spraying chemical or biological insecticides, applying  insecticidal dusts or picking them off by hand, the method I prefer.

Whichever method you choose, do it quickly. They can grow from cute tiny caterpillars that hardly make a mark on a leaf to monsters like these  in just a few days. Once they reach this size, they can literally devour an entire plant overnight.

If you decide to use the hand pick method, here’s a tip that will help you find them.  Since Hornworms’ camouflage is so effective, they can be very difficult to detect. Go thorough your plants and pick off the ones you see right away. Then go do something else in another part of your garden for a while, even ten or twenty minutes will do.  This gives your eyes a chance to “re-set”.  When you come back to look for the worms, you can often spot the ones you missed the first time through.

It also helps to check them a couple times throughout the day. As the light changes, you may be able to spot the rest of them that are hiding.

In my first time through my plants I found this batch of worms.  After about a half an hour, I found eight more in the same spots I looked at the first time around!

You may be wondering what I was going to do with a bowl full of Tomato Hornworms. I took them over to our chickens and tossed the worms  in one at a time. This provides loads of entertainment for both the chickens and myself.  The chickens like to play several games with the worms like “Chicken Football” and ” Chicken Rugby” and my favorite “Tug of War”.

To avoid a lot of  disappointment,  check those tomato plants as soon as you can… before you head out to the beach.

Bob

Apple Codling Moth

Growing good apples is a little tricky because of all of the pests that feed on them and cause damage to the fruit.

We discussed the Curculio a couple of posts ago, this time we need to talk about another major pest on apples, the Codling Moth.  This is the proverbial “worm in the apple” that you see in those old-timey cartoons. It is not a worm as such but rather is the larva of a moth.

The Codling Moth is not a very attractive moth as seen in this photo taken by MSU Horticulturists.

Normally there are two generations of this pest in our area although in some years we see a third generation as well depending upon that season’s weather.

According to scientists who measure certain weather and other conditions, the Codling Moth larvae are hatching from their eggs right now.  After the larvae hatch, they will begin to burrow into the fruit.  Once they get inside the fruit they cannot be killed because  insecticides cannot reach them.

Codling Moth damage on apple. (MSU photo)

Timing is very critical for controlling Codling Moth effectively since the larvae begin to burrow into the fruit just hours after hatching. Large commercial orchards use sophisticated traps to monitor adult moths. With that information they can determine when egg laying happens  and apply their sprays accordingly.  For the rest of us we have to pretty much rely on our 10 day to two week spray schedule to do the trick.

Michigan State University Extension in Van Buren County has a very detailed web page regarding this pest.

Another generation of Codling Moth can be expected in August.

Bob

Wireworms

I decided to expand our vegetable garden this year by converting some of the wild area behind the existing garden into usable garden space.

While tilling and planting I found these subterranean dwelling insects known as “wireworms”.

You can see by the photo how they got their name, they sort of look like a piece of copper wire and have a hard, shiny exterior skin.

Wireworms found in the garden.

They are actually the larval form of the “click beetle”. These are beetles that make a “click” when they flip themselves up onto their  feet if they some how ended up on their back.

There are several species of wireworms out there and are commonly found in newly tilled sod, like my area, or in gardens that have not been weeded very thoroughly.

There  are also species that prefer garden crops, the potato is especially vulnerable to wireworm attack. Damage in potatoes shows up as reduced yield caused by the larvae  chewing on the roots and as holes burrowed into the potato tuber itself.

Years ago there were many insecticides that would eliminate wire worms in the garden, those have all been taken off the market due to environmental concerns.  Your best bet to reduce wire worms in the future  is to keep your garden free of weeds throughout the gardening season. There are also some biological products on the market that show some promising results in keeping wire worms in check.

Keeping wireworms away is another good reason to keep that garden weeded!

Bob

Dog Tick Season

We found our first Dog Tick (sometimes called Wood Tick) of the season this past Saturday. The warm weather has brought them out early this year.

On our property, this has been the only species of tick we have encountered. Fortunately the dog tick does not carry Lyme Disease.

Dog Ticks are about 3/16" long.

The experts at Michigan State University has this to say about the pests:

Their bites rarely result in serious disease in Michigan, but like other wood ticks, dog ticks are a known carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. The cases of Rock Mountain Spotted Fever reported in Michigan have been from primarily southern counties, particularly those located directly north of the Toledo Airport.

Hmmmm… that comment about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever being found in the counties “directly north of the Toledo Airport” doesn’t give me too much comfort. I guess the lesson to be learned is that you need to check yourself and pets for ticks after spending a day walking or working in an area with tall grass or shrubs.  The ticks crawl up onto tall grass or shrubbery and wait for a likely host to walk by, usually a dog or cat (or raccoon or other wild animal). They don’t use trees for this purpose.

I spend a lot of time outside, sometimes in areas like those described, and do find a tick now and then. The most I’ve ever found on myself at one time was five ticks. That was several years ago. It was a bad tick year and  I spent the whole day working out in an area with tall grass.

If you find the ticks right away, they are easy to remove. The longer they stay on, the harder it is to get them off. The ticks have barbs on their mouth that they use to dig deeper and deeper into your skin until they find blood.  It takes them a few hours before they actually start “sucking blood” so usually you have plenty of time to get them off.

The recommended procedure for removing ticks is to use a pair of tweezers and grab them right at the surface of your skin then lift them straight out without twisting them. Avoid squeezing them to keep their “saliva” from being squirted back into your or your pet’s skin.

If left on too long, they will continue to feed on blood until they get “big and juicy” looking something like a disgusting, brown grape…yuk.  Don’t let them get to that point!  Sometimes you can find a tick starting to swell from feeding on a long-haired dog. This is  because when the ticks are small they are easily hidden under long fur.

Be aware that the ticks are out now and check your pets often.

Bob

Eastern Tent Caterpillars are Hatching

Those nasty tents of caterpillars that you see up in the trees in early summer have already begun to appear.  The above average temperatures we have been experiencing has caused our local population of  Eastern Tent Caterpillars to hatch from their egg masses during the last couple of days.

The egg were laid last fall by the adult tent caterpillar moth.

It is very easy to get rid of the caterpillars right now because they are only about one-eight of an inch long and very susceptible to sprays or even just squashing by hand.  Look for the masses near the ends of the twigs of apple, cherry, plum and other related trees. The egg masses are a little difficult to spot, but once you have see one, it’s a lot easier to recognize them.  Many times you can simply snip off the twig containing the egg mass and discard it.

This egg mass is already covered with a fine tent web spun by the caterpillars. The dark specks are frass (droppings) from the caterpillars.

The  egg masses look like a blob of foam that has dried out and hardened. The caterpillars spend the winter in these eggs then hatch out the same time the trees begin to leaf out in the spring.  These very tender newly “sprouting” leaves are like baby food to the newly hatched infant  caterpillars.

The tiny caterpillars are clearly visible in this photo.

Sometimes, if a severe rainstorm occurs during this stage, many of the caterpillars will be washed away.  Perfect timing of a storm doesn’t happen very often so I wouldn’t count on that to control your problem.

The “tent worms” will feed voraciously and devour a lot of leaves but generally won’t kill a tree or cause any  lasting damage.

Bob

Balance of Nature in Your Garden

I came across this horn worm on our grapes this morning. There were over 2 dozen white objects attached to its body.

It had been parasitized by another insect, most likely some species of wasp.

These types of wasps reproduce by depositing their eggs with their stinger into a host insect.  In this case the unsuspecting insect is a horn worm.

The eggs soon hatch inside the caterpillar’s body. The newly released wasp larvae then begin to feed on the “innards” of the host insect while it’s still alive.

When the young wasp larvae have grown to sufficient size, they form”cocoons”, those white structures you see on the back of the caterpillar. The wasp larvae undergo a transformation inside the cocoons and emerge as fully developed wasps.

You can see by the size of the cocoons that these wasps are tiny compared to the paper wasps or hornets we normally see buzzing around the picnic table.

Let the balance of nature help you in your garden. When you see a caterpillar that looks like this, don’t squash or spray it, let the new wasps be “born”.  They will soon be flying around looking for more caterpillars in your garden to parasitize.

By the way, this type of wasp does not sting or disturb people.

Bob

Grape Jelly Surprise

A few days ago Judy and I decided to replenish  our grape jelly supply. Of course to do that, you need grapes. As I was getting out the  kettles,sugar and pectin, Judy went out to pick grapes.

She had almost a basketful when out of the corner of her eye she was startled by an alarming sight, a hornet’s nest just inches away  from her head!

After regaining her composure, she realized there was no activity around the nest at all.

Apparently an animal, most likely a skunk, had torn into the nest looking for hornet larvae to eat. By now, all of the hornets were long gone.

Look at both photos and you will see that the hornets built their nest right on a grapevine.  As the nest grew larger, it engulfed the grapes until the grapes themselves became part of the nest.  You can see the grapes ripening both inside and outside of the nest!

Working outside in your garden, you never know what wonder of nature you are going to find next!

And, yes, we did go on to make a couple of batches of jelly.

Bob