The ciiiiiircle of liiiiiiife

By Mir
June 13, 2009

Life keeps trucking along, despite my various concerns and issues. It’s funny, that way.

Chickadee is somewhat improved since our frantic evening at Urgent Care and her shot of steroids. This means, of course, that she is still covered head-to-toe with rash, and that someone who hadn’t seen her earlier this week would think she looked terrible, but we can see that compared to a few days ago, she is really MUCH BETTER. In the meantime, she has been increasingly emotional and crabby, which didn’t make any sense to me until I remembered that prednisone makes me insane, and then I realized that probably it’s not just her being a tween, probably the prednisone is making HER insane as well. Fun!

And then I got to pack her and her brother up and send them off with their dad for a couple of weeks. I’m so glad so sorry I’m going to miss the rest of the Steroid Days with her…. Last night was particularly delightful, as she became irate at the very notion of her clothing being in the—GASP!—same suitcase as her brother’s, so she opted to pack for two weeks in the smallest backpack she owned. And it didn’t work. And that was all my fault (of course). After everyone finished crying, she deigned to let her clothing be put in the suitcase. Like I said, good times.

So. With the kids leaving this morning, Otto and I of course began to celebrate wildly the moment they left. In his case, that meant heading off to go drive fast cars, and in mine it meant picking up some wheat-free bread from a friend and dropping off our library books. WE ARE PARTY ANIMALS.

Now, I know some of you aren’t so interested in the “LOOK AT MY GARDEN” posts, and I understand, because honestly sometimes I wonder if this is even marginally interesting to someone who figured out a long time ago how to grow food. For me, it’s a never-ending source of wonderment that we are growing stuff we can just walk outside and pick and eat. Especially considering the fact that I used to kill every houseplant I ever tried to grow.

Somehow in the hustle and bustle of getting the kids ready to go and spending Chickadee’s college fund on chemical-free, dye-free, fragrance-free, 100%-hypoallergenic personal hygiene products, I hadn’t been out to the garden in a couple of days. So this afternoon I went out to pick beans and water and all of that sort of thing.

If you look down on my garden boxes from the porch (as I often do) right now, they look like this:

That’s actually only two of the three boxes (the third is at an angle to those two, out of the frame to the right of the pictures), but it gives you the general idea. The plants are big and bushy and it requires a bit of maneuvering to get between the two main boxes without squishing any of the plants now hanging out the sides. The tomatoes I grew from seed (in the box not pictured) are now up to my CHIN, which is just craziness. All of the tomato plants are laden with fruit, though it’s all green so far. This week we may get our first ripe tomato; we’ll see. Mostly, right now, we have beans and squash. We got our first cucumber this week, too.

So I went out there, bowl in hand, ready to pull beans. The bush beans are winding down their production, but the green beans are just starting to ripen, and I do love how a bowl full of three different colors of beans looks:

That right there is a picture of TOTAL YUM. However, you may have noticed a second, smaller bowl in that picture. And you may be wondering what’s in that bowl. And very soon you are going to wish you hadn’t wondered.

Yesterday we had one of those flash thunderstorms that comes out of nowhere and just PUMMELS down the rain. For about twenty minutes it looked like the Apocalypse, and then it stopped and the sun came out again. I have thirteen tomato plants (no, no significance to the number) and only ONE of them decided this storm was too much for it to bear. I’m grateful, of course, that there weren’t more casualties, but it was very odd to walk outside and realize that one of my plants was sort of bent and broken and unhappy looking.

I was standing between the boxes, trying to right the branches that had flung themselves groundward, and really, I was feeling pretty good about my little garden. The affected tomato plant seemed like it might be okay with a little added support, and the one next to it is the absolute prize of my garden—nearly as tall as I am, lush, bright green, and…

… inches from my face, a branch poked into the space between the boxes. Tender young leaves sprung towards the sky from its tip, and on its underside, a giant, fat, round leaf… was pooping.

A pooping leaf?!

Oh. Oh oh oh. OH NO. It was the biggest, fattest, caterpillar I’d ever seen. And yes, it had just pooped. While I watched. Inches away. And then it waved this weird horn-like appendage at me. AND I DIED.

I dropped my bean-picking bowl and ran back inside. My heart was beating wildly, my keen SENSE OF SQUICK was in overdrive, but I knew what I had to do. I grabbed a couple of baggies and a plastic bowl and a lid. I went back out. The fat caterpillar was exactly where I’d left him.

I put the baggies on my hands. I grabbed the branch with one hand, and the caterpillar with the other. And I pulled.

And that caterpillar held on for DEAR LIFE. The harder I pulled, the more adrenaline pulsed through my body, and by the time I’d extracted the little fucker, I was nearly hyperventilating. I dropped him into the bug bowl and put the lid on top. And then I surveyed the plant.

Oh. So THAT would explain all of the missing leaves. What are the chances of there being just one caterpillar…?

I started really looking, and they say “seek and ye shall find,” and they are right, but I don’t think they were talking about disgusting caterpillars exactly the same color as your tomato plants.

I pulled two more off of the same plant. I checked it again, then checked the falling over plant, and hoped like hell that I was done.

But then I remembered that I’d found some… stuff… on the leaves of the plant at the end of the box earlier in the week. I’d even mentioned it to Otto. “It looks like guano,” I’d told him. “But I can’t figure out what’s leaving it!” Well, this had all started with me getting up close and personal with this particular creatures excrement, and now it was suddenly clear.

I moved down to the last plant. The biggest and fattest prize awaited me, and I actually gagged while I extracted it from the plant. Another quick check aaaaand… I appeared to have gotten them all.

Look; I’m all for live and let live. My goal is to plant enough that the bugs and other critters can have some and it’s not a big deal. But as we already learned with the slugs, some bugs are GREEDY and then they must be ANNIHILATED. And any caterpillar big enough to make the same size turd as a kitten is not welcome in my garden.

I brought them inside because I wanted to figure out what they were, and I didn’t know what else to do with them. DO NOT CLICK the following if you are easily skeeved out. Everyone, meet the tomato hornworms. And just in case you’re not able to fully grasp their size from that picture, here’s a handy reference object to show you how gargantuan they really are. ICK! ICKICKICK!!!!!

I have valiantly saved my tomatoes. And now I am never going outside again. Or into the kitchen where I am inexplicably storing a bowl full of caterpillars. You understand.


  1. colleen

    My daughter loves these. You see, her grandmother pays her a dollar for each tomato horn worm or peach borer (?) caterpillar she catches.

  2. Chuck

    Ah, the joy of organic gardening. Of course, once the bugs are removed there’s nothing stopping you from nuking their asses with bug spray.

    I suppose I could try one of those hanging tomato things on my patio, just for the heck of it. Something to think about.

  3. The Other Leanne

    Thank you for not embedding a picture of those horn worms. I have only seen one in my life, but it made me gag to pull it off my plant and FLING it into the street. They are hideous creatures. My throat is starting to contract just thinking about it. But your garden is lovely!

  4. meghann

    Am I the only one that thinks that the end of those looks like a certain male body part?

  5. Heather

    Since I am eating, I am very glad you had the warning on those pictures – I most emphatically did not click ;)

  6. Cele

    I’ll take a horned tomato worm over a snake any day. Do I have to plant tomatoes first?

  7. Crisanne

    I’d love to see Bear Grylls choke down one of those! Of course, I enjoy watching him do just about anything.

  8. StephLove

    My daughter’s preschool class this past year was called the Bugs class and every child was assigned a bug. Pictures of each child’s bug adorned their backpacks, snack place cards, artwork, etc.

    My darling daughter was a horn worm. She had a choice and chose it over dragonfly.

  9. Half Assed Kitchen

    When I was a kid and my great aunt used to write me letters about what was growing in her garden, I was all *Snoooooze*. But now that I’m a grown up and realize how cool it is to actually grow things, I understand. I wish I’d been more interested then.

  10. Jeanmarie

    No Meghann,
    I am afraid I too, see things like that in the oddest of places :-)
    Mir, I have brown flat shelled snails in my front garden – any suggestions??

  11. elizabeth

    wholly moley, those things are ginormous! I commend you on saving your tomatoes. doesn’t it fall to Otto to remove critters from the house. he can make the kitchen safe for you once more. ;-)
    I hope Chickadee feels better soon.

  12. bridget

    OH GOD. My mom had an infestation of those things on her tomato plants when I was about 10, and she pulled them off and drowned them in a big jar of soapy water. It scarred me for life – and I generally LIKE bugs. Did you see what the horrible moth they grow up and turn into looks like? It’s the size of a small bird.

  13. Mama Bear

    Mir, did you come up with a magical solution for your slug problems? I’m still praying for one, so if you did, are you up to sharing??
    And those caterpillars, thanks for the warning. We had similar ones, but with orange/black spots as well, on our gaura a few years back. They defoliated the entire thing while I was on vacation. Yick!

  14. Beth

    If you ever see one of these buggers covered with what look like little grains of white rice you can leave him be. Those are the cocoons of the larval form of a beneficial wasp and they will multiply and deal with your hornworm problem for you. How you get them to come to your garden in the first place, though, is a mystery to me.

  15. Jenn

    As soon as you said “it was pooping,” I knew it was a tomato horn worm. The first (and only, thank God) time I saw one, I was a kid and I was scarred for life. I have no idea how they get to gardens, it makes me picture a small army of them crawling down roads in formation, branching out into gardens all over the country. ICK.

    So what ever happened to the black widow? Is it still hanging out in your garden somewhere?

  16. tuney

    I think the worms themselves are beautiful. I mean, c’MON. That’s a gorgeous shade of green right there, complete with some neato white stripes. BUT. They MUST go if you are to have any tomatoes left. And don’t think you are done, my dear. There will be MORE. I’m the girl who rescues the rodents the cats catch, tho, so I’m no help with disposal. Maybe drop them off in another neighborhood…? An insect relocation program? Spin them around a lot before you let them go, so they can’t find their way back.

    (Yes. I kid.)

  17. Anna Marie

    BLLLEEEARGGHGGH. Squick. yuck. Good luck with that, Mir.

  18. Katherine

    When you started describing your caterpillar, I just knew it was a tomato horn worm. Those things are nasty – they will absolutely eat up your plants (and the tomatoes). Also, they will eat green pepper plants – and take big bites out of the peppers. Why they won’t eat one whole pepper and leave the others alone, I don’t know – but they usually eat 1/4 of EACH ONE! So, check your pepper plants too! I don’t know if they eat other plants – last time I had them I was only growing tomatoes and peppers.

    Good luck. I hope you got them all. And listen to Beth about the beneficial wasps – they will take care of the problem for you – far easier than rabid hornworm patrolling.

  19. Karen

    In regards to Chickadee’s rash…check to see if there’s a NAET practitioner in your area. It may not be covered by your health insurance, but TRUST ME it would be worth checking out. I had allergic reactions to almost everything I ate, all kinds of environtmental stuff, etc. My eyes were so covered with rash, peeling, and swollen that I could barely open them. The treatments ELIMINATED the allergy, and now I am symptom free, eating whatever I want (still trying to make health choices, of course!

  20. Rinatta

    Ick. I hate bugs! In my garden, something is eating my strawberries. These are strawberries that are hanging in the baskets 3 feet of the ground, with netting around them and organic bug spray on them. And still, something is taking giant bites out of my strawberries and also sucking others dry. I can’t even imagine what it might be, but what ever it is, it scares me!

  21. Nelson's Mama

    I grew up in Kentucky tobacco country – had to Google to be sure, but those are the same thing as tobacco worms. We had to pick those off by hand when I was a kid…ICK is right!!

  22. jennifer

    It’s no wonder you didn’t notice those ‘pillars. They look very much like plant parts to me!

  23. Chris

    They look like green sausages next to that egg.


    Have you tried spraying your plants with soapy water? Mom did that and never had problems with them.

    It’s so crazy it just might work!

  24. Britexan

    I think one of those worms is a character in a BBC children’s show (Fifi and the Flowertots)!

    But having seen the real thing in your pictures, my skin won’t stop tingling and itching. Eurgh!

  25. Brigitte

    Oddly enough, those don’t really squick me. Maybe because they’re relatively dry to the touch. But when they’re infested with the beneficial (to US) wasp eggs, THAT’S when I get squicked out. My imagination just is much too vivid as to what will happen when those eggs hatch!

  26. kim

    Hey! Look what I just read through wikipedia: (not that you have much room to plant flowers)

  27. SoMo

    Um, yeah. Reason number 1 why I don’t garden. Sorry, that is disgusting and I didn’t click on the link. I do have to wonder if the First Lady is doing this sort of thing with her garden or does she have nasty caterpillar wranglers?

  28. Jamie AZ

    Yep, we’ve had a huge one of those around the garden, too. It was about 8″ long and disgusting. Good for you for extracting them! Your garden looks great.

  29. Amy-Go

    Georgia’s good for growing stuff…including giant insects. One of the very few things I most emphatically do not miss!! Although, not so long ago an enormous snake made the fatal error of taking up residence in my backyard, and I have to say, I’d have rather dealt with horn worms. *shudder*

  30. Aisha

    I’m fairly certain I would be burning that container right now. I might pause long enough to take it outside. And then I’d make Otto go through the rest of the garden looking for more horned worms while drinking large quantities of something… drunk making.

    These post with the bugs are kinda making me reconsider my ultimate plan of world domination through gardening.

  31. Heidi

    “And any caterpillar big enough to make the same size turd as a kitten is not welcome in my garden.” HAHAHAHA!

    I haven’t read the other comments so this may have already been mentioned, but my honey said they stink something awful if they get squished.

  32. Andrea

    Yep, I knew you were going to mention those evil things. Beth is right about the white things…leave those be. Rip the other ones off and SMOOSH them dead. Oh, I hate them. I have a tiny raised garden and every summer they appear to strip the leaves off of the tomato plants. If you see leaves missing, look closer and you shall find a horn worm. EVIL. I blogged about them last summer and grossed my friends out!

  33. StephLove

    BTW, what is the kids’ visitation schedule with their dad like this summer?

  34. mom, again

    my uncle had fish tanks with some sort of big black & orange fish in it. he also had a large garden. He pulled things like your caterpillars off of plants in the garden, & fed them to the fish. This was no end of fun for the herd of younger brothers & boy cousins I suffered to endure.

    Wiki to the rescue: the fish were Oscars; & wiki points out they can be fed small insects. if I knew how to edit, I’d add ‘tomato horn worms’ to the list of what to feed them.

    I’d suggest you get some, but since the fish won’t go over to the garden to get the worms themselves, it seems unhelpful.

  35. Debbi

    HAAA!!!!! “and by the time I’d extracted the little fucker, I was nearly hyperventilating.’ Oh, that had my laughing so hard!

    They really are nasty looking! That might have gotten me to buy some icky chemicals ;-)

  36. k

    I swear I saw some marijuana growing in that garden patch. Giving Showtime’s Weeds a run for it’s money?

  37. Ani

    And suddenly I remember that I can just go to the Farmer’s market and get some nice ripe tasty organic tomatoes, sans bugs. the world is a happy place.

  38. Miriam

    Yep, we were invaded by them last year. And seriously, the horns? WTF? NASTY! Beware, I found SEVERAL of their ooky cocoon thingies in the ground when I tilled this spring. Supposedly basil keeps them away. I planted some in between each of my tomatoes, but we’ll see. I hope I NEVER come close to one of those things again. Their poop is enough to scare me, but the horns popping out- that just finishes me off! Good Luck, Mir!

  39. TC

    I pulled dozens of those off my tomato plants last year. As in MORE THAN ONE DOZEN. But only AFTER they’d eaten most of the precious green leaves that were growing, and thus pretty much killed my lovely ‘mater plants.

    I did not plant tomatoes this year for that precise reason. I just can’t go through that heartache again. ;-)

  40. Randi

    Babygirl found one of those last year in a parking lot and I thought it was the weirdest, scariest thing I’d ever seen. She loved it! Then we found out what it was. Those things? FREAKY DEAKY!!

  41. Aimee


  42. Katie in MA

    Don’t hit me – but I think they look very cartoonish. (Please note: I didn’t say cute.) Of course, I’m not the one picking them off the plants. Too bad the kids are away – you could pay them to debugify the garden!

  43. Scottsdale Girl

    Holy hell I am laughing from all the new words I am learning in the COMMENTS SECTION.

  44. JennyM

    Hey, this could be fun (from wikipedia):

    “They can also be found easily and picked off the plants at night with the use of a blacklight, since they glow under the ultraviolet light.”

    You’ve heard of “Cosmic Bowling”? Introducing: Cosmic Gardening!!!

    Gross, dude. I’m hoping against hope that I’m not going to encounter these guys since I’ve got marigolds AND basil next to my tomatoes….

  45. Lulu

    The bugs in Louisiana almost killed me when we lived there…

    I never knew one could grow tomatoes without either chemicals or hornworms, until I moved to eastern Washington state. I’ve had small, medium, and huge gardens, even grown organic tomatoes commercially, and fought not a single tobacco hornworm. I love it here.

    But, hey, send those caterpillers to your friend Joshilyn to incubate in her kitchen terrarium. Her tent caterpillers ought to be gone by now…

  46. joanne

    Ugh… shuddering… I know EXACTLY how you feel. Because of this green hairy ickiness, I’ve decided to not grow tomatoes this year. These guys can decimate a whole garden in a day! I get skeeved out, and can’t squish them (they ooze green slime), so I “capture” and flush….

    They are disgusting, with or without the little rice larvae…
    I am still getting the shivers.

  47. Daisy

    My tomato plants aren’t doing well this year. I wonder…oh, no, I really don’t want to think about whether these lovely critters have moved north to Wisconsin.

  48. Sarah


  49. Burgh Baby

    Who says your gardening posts are no fun? I greatly enjoy reading about you rookies figuring things out. ;-)

  50. Chris

    Tomato worms. *shudder*
    Ugh. I HATE them. They scare me. It’s not their fault, the poor hideous little things, but they just gross me out.
    *shudders some more*

  51. Stephanie

    ohhhh….they’re pretty! ;-)

  52. pat

    something is eating my tomatoes in half but sometimes they only take a bite out, whatever it is it seems to have teeth? yuck! the bastards won’t eat the whole thing, just enough to piss me off!

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