Frass! A Hornworm Is Eating My Tomatoes and Peppers!

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If you have never met a hornworm munching on your tomatoes or peppers, then count yourself lucky.

I remember my first time finding a hornworm. I reached into a tomato plant with lush foliage and this green caterpillar, as big as my finger with a horn on its end, stared back at me. I screamed like a little girl rather than the grown woman that I was. The hornworm was killed by my soon-to-be husband. I was very reluctant to pick any more tomatoes for fear that my bare skin might accidentally touch one of these monstrous creatures.

Two Types of Hornworms

There are two kinds of hornworms—tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms—but both kinds eat the fruit and leaves from tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Read More: “3 Expert Tomato Growers Share Their Best Tips”

I usually have the tobacco hornworm variety in my Ohio garden, with its seven V-shaped white marks along its body. The tomato hornworm, on the other hand, has six white stripes. A single hornworm will quickly decimate your crop if it goes unnoticed, so I don’t waste much time analyzing white marks once I find a hornworm.

Signs You’ve Got a Hornworm Problem

Hornworm Eating Tomato Leaf

Most of the time I spot the signs of a hornworm before I see the actual caterpillar.

There are two things to look for when you visit your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants:

  • First, are there any missing leaves or fruits that have huge sections eaten out of them? Hornworms love to eat leaves.
  • Second, are there bits of frass (insect droppings) either on the lower leaves or on the ground? Really fresh frass might be green, but will turn dark brown or black as it gets older. (By the way, I love the word “frass.” I think gardeners could start saying “frass” instead of the other synonymous curse words.)

If there is defoliation and frass, then the hornworm isn’t too far away. I look directly above the frass, but if the hornworm has eaten all the leaves on that branch, then it may have moved to the next branch with lots of food to eat. One summer I found defoliation on one of my hot pepper plants, but couldn’t find the hornworm for a couple of days. It had eaten all the leaves off the first plant and crawled over to a second pepper plant before I located it. But more on that story in a bit. It has a happy ending!

Getting Rid of Hornworms

Unfortunately for bug-phobic people like me, handpicking is the best way to get rid of hornworms when you find them in your garden.

I put on my magic shield (a.k.a. my gardening gloves), put shoes on my feet, and grab a hand trowel or small pruning shears. Hornworms have a surprisingly strong grip on that plant and will not let go of it willingly. If the hornworm is near the end of a branch and I won’t lose any fruit by cutting the branch, then I make the sacrifice. Otherwise I bat at it with my trowel and knock it to the ground. From there I either smash it with my foot or the trowel. (Be careful. Hornworm guts are green and gooey and can shoot out of the animal when smashed. Gross.)

Some people say that chickens like to eat hornworms, but I didn’t have any luck when I tried feeding them to my neighbor’s chickens. They loved Japanese beetle grubs, but that’s another topic for another day. The hens looked at me like I was crazy both times I tried to feed them a hornworm. They always knew I had food when I went to visit and gobbled everything down except for the hornworms.

A Happy Ending

Remember the hornworm that I found on my pepper plant? I didn’t handpick that one off the jalapeno.

Why?

Well, it had these little white things that looked like grains of rice along its body. Those are actually cocoons of a very special parasitoid wasp.

Tomato Hornworm Parasitic Wasp

This type of wasp lays her eggs inside the body of the hornworm. The wasp larvae feed on the hornworm and kill it, so I didn’t have to! The wasps are the good guys in this situation. If you see them, leave them alone. Both of my pepper plants bounced back and are producing fruit.

Companion Planting to Discourage Hornworms

As much as I think parasitoid wasps are awesome, I’d rather prevent hornworms from entering my garden in the first place. That’s where companion planting is used.

This year I planted borage near my tomato plants.

Borage

My daughter is a budding gardener (and watching over my shoulder as I type), so I let her plant marigolds near my tomatoes. Both of these flowers help keep the hornworms away.

So why did I have any hornworms in my garden this year if I was using good companion plants? I got overly ambitious and put in a new garden bed after I was “done” planting. The first tomato section was the one with the borage and marigolds. The new area had peppers and tomatoes, but no borage or marigolds. I only had one hornworm in the area with companion plants, but many hornworms in the area without.

Next spring, try companion planting for yourself to see how well it works to keep those hornworms away. If a few hornworms still make it into your garden, maybe you’ll be lucky and find parasitoid wasp cocoons growing right out of their big green bodies.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Do you have any tips for discouraging, preventing, or getting rid of tomato hornworms? We’d love to hear them! Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

(This article was written by Amy S. as a submission in The Grow Network’s Fall 2015 Writing Contest. It was originally published October 1, 2015.)

 

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8 Genius Uses for Buckets on the Homestead

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Life on the homestead requires a lot of creativity and frugality. The “five R’s” seem to be constantly in play: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Repurpose, and Repair. Nothing ever goes to waste—today’s trash simply becomes tomorrow’s resources.

When buying something new is necessary, I usually try to make sure the item fits at least one of the following criteria:

  1. First, does the item have more than one alternative use or purpose?
  2. Second, does the item take up minimal space?
  3. Third, is the item inexpensive?

My Favorite Homesteading Tool

My absolute favorite “tool” on the homestead actually fits all three criteria: none other than the five-gallon plastic bucket. Not only do these wonder tools nest neatly into a tidy stack, they also have a seemingly unlimited number of uses.

Whether you are into homesteading, preparedness, or permaculture, five-gallon buckets are essential tools of the trade!

Getting Buckets for Free

A note about price: If purchased from a hardware store, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $five-dollars per bucket. But you can acquire them for FREE from your grocery store’s bakery department. All you have to do is ask nicely for the buckets that their icing came in. Other free sources include pickle buckets from hamburger joints, soap buckets from car washes, and lard buckets from Mexican restaurants.

Of course, be prepared to clean them!

Uses for Buckets

The Bucket List

So, what exactly can you do with a five-gallon bucket once you procure it? I thought you’d never ask! Below, I showcase some general ideas that I use quite frequently. (If you’re keen on any given idea, more detailed tutorials can be found all over the Internet.)

1. Container Gardening

First and foremost, five-gallon buckets make for outstanding container gardens when you drill drainage holes in the bottom of the buckets. While some permaculturists might frown on the idea of container gardens, they are quite useful if you want to keep invasive (opportunistic) plants such as mint from taking over your garden. Additionally, in a grid-down situation, you can easily secure your food indoors overnight to protect from potential looters. That brings a whole new meaning to the words “food security!”

2. Growing Mushrooms

Another clever use for buckets is growing edible and medicinal mushrooms in them. Just drill staggering holes in the sides of the bucket, fill the bucket with free coffee grounds from the local corner coffee shop, and inoculate with the spawn of your favorite mushroom.

3. Organizing Your Tools

A five-gallon bucket also makes for a great tool bag. Either online or at your local hardware store, you can buy organizers that are specifically made for buckets and have all kinds of compartments. The outside sleeve compartments of the bucket are ideal for your smaller tools, such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. On the inside of the bucket, you can store your heavy-duty tools like your hammers, axes, and saws.

Read More: “No More Disappearing Tools With This Simple Trick!”

4. Making Wine

You can even make wine with a five-gallon bucket. Simply pour in some apple cider (sans preservatives), sugar, and yeast. Drill a hole into the lid, insert a rubber grommet, and then insert an airlock bubbler (available for a dollar at most home-brew stores). The Big Bird/Cookie Monster–style explanation is that the “yeasties” eat the sugar and essentially poop out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The airlock bubbler allows the carbon dioxide to escape, but prevents oxygen or other contaminants from entering your wine. There are a few more specific steps and ingredients that go into producing quality wine, but this is basically how wine is made! People drink alcohol in both good times and bad. Wine making can prove to be a very valuable and profitable skill in a grid-down scenario.

Uses for Buckets

5. Feed the Worms

One of my favorite uses of a five-gallon bucket is as part of a vermicompost system (a.k.a. a worm bin). Red wiggler worms are voracious eaters. I feed them my shredded junk mail and food scraps. In return, they give me “black gold.”

If mushroom compost is the Cadillac of compost, worm castings are the Rolls Royce!

6. Make Compost Tea

In addition to vermicompost, compost tea happens to be the secret of success for many master gardeners. And with a five-gallon bucket, you can brew your own compost tea right at home. All you need is an air pump for aeration, some worm castings (compost), non-chlorinated water, and a few other ingredients. After two days of brewing, it is ready to spray on your crops using a pump sprayer. Your plants will grow twice as big, twice as fast!

Read More: “Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Your Compost”

7. Make a Mousetrap

Have a mouse problem, but don’t have the heart to set out a traditional mousetrap? Well, you can make a catch-and-release mousetrap out of a bucket and a few pieces of wood, plus peanut butter for bait. The contraption reminds me of the board game Mouse Trap that I used to play as a child!

8. Filter Water

Lastly, you can make a heavy-duty water filter from two five-gallon buckets stacked on top of each other. The top bucket has a ceramic water filter that filters out the dirty water dumped into it. The bottom bucket has a water spigot that allows you to extract the newly filtered water.

I hope you enjoyed some of the examples I’ve provided of why five-gallon buckets are the absolute best and most versatile tool for homesteading, preparedness, and permaculture. Five-gallon buckets not only serve as a container to grow your food in, they can be used in creating the fertilizer that enriches your garden. To top it off, you can use buckets to collect and ultimately store your bountiful harvests!

What about you? What’s your favorite way to use a five-gallon bucket? Leave me a note in the comments!

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SHTF Pest Control!

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SHTF Pest Control!

SHTF Pest Control
Micheal Kline “Reality Check” Audio player below!

I do not know of a single human on this planet who enjoys mosquitoes, ticks, roaches, or creepy crawlies. Barring the entomologist in the world, being outside with bugs can mess up a perfect camping trip. Fortunately, there are many options to spray around and life is good. However, in a grid down scenario, we will not have the luxury of heading to the local big box and getting a new can of mosquito, roach, or wasp spray.

Continue reading SHTF Pest Control! at Prepper Broadcasting |Network.