Tomato Worm Time

The fall weather is holding at warm with no hint of frost yet. But killing frost can come any time. So the tomato worm invasion in the garden doesn’t worry me much.

I knew the invasion was coming. I was out in the garden one morning and saw a tomato sphinx moth by the tomato plants.

tomato sphinx moth

The tomato sphinx moth is large, nearly three inches long. The underwing has colorful orange stripes.

The moth flew up over a leaf, dipped the tip of her abdomen to the leaf, then flew on. She did this time after time going across the tomato patch laying her eggs.

A tomato worm is a voracious eater. Several can denude a tomato plant so only thick stems remain.

tomato worm eggs

Tomato worm eggs are small. Often they are laid singly rather than in groups as these are. they never touch each other. In warm weather, the eggs hatch quickly.

Generally I spot a worm, snap the stem off and deposit stem with worm in the chicken yard. Chickens like them once the ‘What is this?’ attitude passes.

By October my tomato plants are hanging over their cages. This year their foliage is especially lush. The plants hang over the cages and spread across onto the pepper plants.

We like ripe tomatoes, red and yellow, even striped. By October, when frost is imminent, the vines don’t need to set more tomatoes. They need to ripen the crop on them.

One way to encourage this is to nip off the new blossoms. I never seem to get around to this.

tomato worm

Tomato worms are colored for camophlage. They are the same green as a tomato leaf. They hug the stems looking like part of them. I can look at one and not see it, until, suddenly, my eyes refocus and the worm is obvious.

Enter the tomato worm. It happily nips all this new growth saving me the time and trouble.

There can be too many worms, but that hasn’t been an issue so far. The chickens are waiting, if it does.

The worms do nibble on some tomatoes. But some other critter is passing through nightly and picking a few. The losses aren’t serious at the moment, only annoying.

Besides, I have allies moving in. A small wasp lays eggs in a tomato worm. These eat the worm’s insides, put out white cocoons, hatch out to attack more worms.

dead tomato worm

The wasp larvae have fed, pupaed and gone. The dead tomato worm doesn’t drop off but still hangs grimly onto a plant stem. Tomato worm with lines of white cocoons on them should be left on the plant as the wasps will hatch out, killing the worm and go on to infect other worms.

So the tomato worm invasion becomes an event to watch, but not get upset about. I will probably find a few pupae in the ground later, tucked under the mulch. These are large, dark brown and overwinter in the ground.

Next May, when the new tomato plant crop gets planted, the tomato worm invasion will be a battle with the chickens the benefactors. Not in October.