First things first: I don’t have tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) in my own garden. What you see above is a photo that I took a few weekends ago of a Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta) fatting itself up on my tomatoes. The caterpillars of these two distinct species of moth look very much alike and are easily confused. For reference, the tomato hornworm has v-shaped markings down its sides and a dark black/brown “horn” protruding out the back, while the tobacco hornworm [seen above] has diagonal strikes down its sides and a bright red “horn.”
Despite this distinction I decided to post under the name tomato hornworm because it is the most commonly known of the two.
Over the last few years, gardening friends have been warning me about a garden scourge the seems to be new(ish) to my area. The lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is a pretty red and black beetle that defoliates just about anything in the Lily family, but seems to focus on Asiatics, Fritillaria, Soloman’s Seal, as well as any Lilium.
While the adult is beautifully bright scarlet, also making it very easy to spot, its progeny is a thing of nightmares. It’s a horrible thick blob of a thing that covers itself in its own excrement as a defence against predators and proceeds to eat emerging lily foliage to the ground. Now, I’m not at all squeamish when it comes to creepy crawlies of all types and I have a genuine curiosity about any creature that lives in my garden. As an organic gardener I am definitely not above squishing unwanted pests with my bare hands — it may not be pleasant, but its the safest (and sometimes quickest) method of pest control. But there is just something about a creature that instinctually slathers itself in its own body waste that commands a slow clap and a bow. Well done, lily beetle. Well done. I’ll be coming for you with gloves on, thank-you-very-much.
I’ve been hurriedly bringing all of my frost-sensitive houseplants indoors for the winter in a mad rush to beat the season. As always I am doing it at the last minute rather than drawing it out slowly. Many of you are in a similar boat so I thought I’d compile a checklist of things that I do in the process.
- Check all plants thoroughly for critters. Check underneath mulch, leaves, in the crevices between stems…
- Slugs, snails, sowbugs, and earwigs can cram themselves into the tiniest spots. Check all around containers, especially plastic pots and hanging baskets that have a crevice underneath the lip.
- To flush pests out of the soil: Add a few inches of water to a deep sink or bucket and mix in a few drops of natural dish soap (no chemicals or scents added). The unscented Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap works well for this. Set pots in the liquid for a couple of hours. I am often lazy and don’t bother doing this with all pots — just the ones that I know are problematic.
- To flush pests out of the soil: A few drops of neem oil can be added to the water as an alternative to soap.
- Scrub any outside dirt from the side of the pots while they have their turn in the soapy water.
- Lightly shower particularly dirty or pest-infested plants with a hose before bringing them inside.
- Scrub down empty pots with a scrub brush and lightly soapy warm water. Set aside to dry thoroughly before putting them away.
- Place a small piece of newspaper between stacked terracotta pots to keep them from sticking to one another.
- Prune off any dead or diseased leaves and stems and cut back hard any plants that will be going dormant through the winter months.
Perhaps it is the cold weather that brings them indoors in droves or a last push to procreate before the end times come, but the fruit flies are taking over my kitchen right now as they do every single fall. They are everywhere. They settle on anything that doesn’t move (edible or not) and alight like a cloud of horrible little monsters when the cupboards are opened or a light wind disturbs them.
I invoke the spirit of my grandmother and shake my fist at no one. “I cast yee out foul things! Satan, I rebuke you!”
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work. What does work is a homemade system invented by Davin that we call “The Carrousel”. Its name is inspired by the classic Sci-Fi film from 1976, Logan’s Run. In the film, citizens of a Utopian/dystopian future who are over a certain age are entered into a death machine called the Carrousel under the guise of reincarnation/rebirth or “renewal.”
In our version of The Carrousel, fruit flies are lured into a jar of no return via a funnel system that leads to an intoxicating lake of old red wine. To make your own simply:
I’m glad I didn’t register the name of this hollyhock (Alcea rosea) variety, ‘Peaches ‘n Dreams,’ before I bought and planted it because… The Cheese. God knows I will buy and grow a plant specifically for The Cheese, but there is some cheese that is just too much Lifetime, made-for-TV-movie, Sunday afternoon drama for even me. It was probably the “‘n” that took it over the top. No, I retract. It was the wistful use of “dreams.”