Love For the Hornworm
by Sandy Swegel
Yesterday was a bright sunny day and pollinators were out gorging on the nectar of asters. It’s been a good year for asters, those vigorous re-seeders. Besides honey bees and some native bees, there were at least seven hummingbird sphinx moths in a small garden area. Their very long proboscis lets them eat from many kinds of flowers and carry pollen about. I was watching them while scooping up ten inches of topsoil that flood waters had moved about 15 feet away from the raised tomato bed. So I was scooping the soil up and putting it back. Easy enough. In one shovel there was an enormous mud-covered caterpillar squirming. Slowly I realized that underneath all that mud there was a bright green tomato hornworm and my gut reaction was to kill it right away so I could save my tomatoes.
Fortunately I also immediately thought about the hummingbird moths I had just been admiring. My brain cells reminded me the hummingbird moth and the tomato hornworm are one and the same creature. How can I both love and hate one creature? I also found myself filled with compassion for the hornworm because we had earlier pulled and thrown away all tomato plants. Between the ecoli the flood waters carried, the fungus growing on the leaves from too much water, and the forecast of 34 degrees tonight, there was no good reason to keep tomato plants. So no more food for the hornworm. Poor hornworm….flood and famine. He was really big and fat so I hoped he had enough calories to pupate and I threw him on the pile of mud and dead tomato debris that was going to the landfill and wished him well.
Next year I just have to remind myself to plant enough tomatoes so one or two hornworms can grow up into the beautiful hummingbird sphinx moths that pollinate my flowers.