When the cool, wet spring gave way to a typically hot and humid summer, my tomato plants started to perk up.
My mood brightened along with the plants. There were buds galore, and soon enough, a nice crop of tomatoes: romas, yellow pear, red pear, green zebras and more.
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I was, after years of struggle, finally going to have a bountiful tomato year.
However, it didn’t take long for things to change as a trio of creatures descended to destroy my tomatoes and sour my disposition.
First, came the squirrels. I’ve battled these “rats with fuzzy tails” for years and have never had much luck. I’ve tried putting human hair in the pots, pieces of cloth doused with a squirt of perfume and all sorts of different sprays and solutions recommended by various stores.
Nothing really worked. Every day, there would be a few half-eaten, half-ripe tomatoes sitting out on the deck — stolen by the squirrels then discarded.
Next, and this really blew me away, were deer. We’ve had deer in our neighborhood since we moved in more than 10 years ago, but I’ve never had a problem with them eating my tomatoes, or anything else I planted. That is, until this year.
It started when my son told me the green beans in my garden box on the lower level weren’t doing very well. This was news to me. The last time I’d checked, about a week earlier, they were looking great.
It was going to be a couple more weeks until I harvested, but the box was chocked full of healthy plants. What happened?
I got my answer that evening when I heard a noise outside the basement door. When I opened the door to investigate, there was a full-sized doe standing in the garden box several feet off the ground making a meal out of my beans.
And, upon investigating further, the doe and her companions had already devoured the four or five tomato plants I had planted downstairs alongside the box.
Last, but certainly not least, in the war on my tomatoes came in the form of disgusting, five inch long, pale green caterpillars. I’ve dealt with these pests before, and let me tell you, these suckers mean business.
They will eat a tomato plant down to the nub-leaving nothing but barren tomato “sticks.” You can pull them off and squish them, but more times than not, they’ve already done their damage.
Angry and frustrated, my wife took to the internet to find out more about these hungry caterpillars. According to the best information available, they’re called tomato hornworms. They’re the product of large adult moths which lay eggs on the underside of the tomato plant leaves in the spring. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed for four to six weeks, then create a cocoon for surviving the winter in the soil. The following spring, the cycle of destruction repeats.
So, squirrels, deer, and now, tomato hornworms have taken their turn feasting on my tomatoes.
Is there anything that can possibly be done to salvage the season? Turns out, there just may be.
For the deer, a guy at a local farm and home store turned me onto a product called Deer Scram that you sprinkle around the impacted area. Apparently, it makes the deer turn up their noses. I tried it, replanted my beans and downstairs tomatoes, and so far, so good.
I quickly found, however, that Deer Scram doesn’t double as Squirrel Scram as the squirrels were not deterred. So, I resorted to something old-fashioned-moth balls. A few outside the pots, and voila, the squirrels have disappeared.
There’s not much I can do about the hornworms, short of picking them off and squishing them, which I’ve taken great delight in doing.
Apparently, however, I can do something next spring. The website my wife visited says if you till the soil prior to planting, you’ll kill about 90-percent of the overwintering larvae. Let me tell you, after the summer I’ve had, I can’t wait until spring. Bye-bye hornworms!
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.