A green space for urban gardeners

Oh, the horror: Watering tomato plant turned downright scary

It was after midnight. Prime time for watering my balcony garden plants. Or so I thought…

Little did I know that horror lurked under the normally comforting indigo sky. (Fade up the really chilling scary movie soundtrack.)

I turned on the connected strands of the net lights that wrap my small space in a starry blanket. I grabbed my watering can and made my first trip inside to fill it and then returned to commence my daily ritual.

I started on the right side of the balcony with small pots of morning glory tucked in at intervals around the perimeter.

By the time I made it around to the left side and a large heirloom tomato plant, the moonlight glinted on something I couldn’t quite make out…

It looked to me like a huge mutant pea pod, and I instinctively reached out and touched it… Terror among terrors, I realized: “IT’S ALIVE!!!”

(Crank the really chilling scary movie soundtrack!)

I  shrieked: “SHRIEK!”

And unlike the stalker movie cliches I seem to be throwing about so recklessly here, no one had to yell “RUN!”

I turned and hightailed it back inside.

I fired up the search engine and started inputting terms: GIANT… GREEN… SUCCUBUS… CATERPILLAR…

And I got results. Info and videos… Tales of woe and devastation from a creature known as a “hornworm” caterpillar.

Luckily, I discovered it before it had a chance to wreak the kind of destruction one man’s YouTube presentation depicted. It mowed down the entire plant and left droppings behind.

Don’t ask how it got up here, 10 stories above the city. And don’t inquire about its fate. Let’s just say I — in the words of Niecy Nash — “took a big girl pill” and went back out and did what had to be done.

Sorry there are no photos of the hornworm, but all I could think about was getting rid of it before my tomato plant was ruined. But check out the little critter’s doppelganger in the aforementioned video, embedded below:

Anyone else had problems with this caterpillar? I’d love to hear about it…


  urbantravelgirl wrote @

What the… ??????? Terrifying. Maybe you’ll have to start watering your plants in daylight so nothing like this creeps up on you again! (That video is freaky, too — hope I don’t have caterpillar nightmares after this!)

  linda wrote @

Wow – it’s pretty wild that it got all the way up there Avis! Glad you found it before it did much damage.

I found my first ever tomato hornworm this summer, also before it did any damage. Actually, it wasn’t going to be able to any damage either by the time I found it, since it was already covered with, and paralyzed by parasitic wasps. I too was horrified! I really did want to take a photo of it, but when I tried to move it with a stick, it fell to the ground, and I couldn’t find it under the thicket of tomato stems and foliage.

If you count back to when I first started gardening, helping my parents with our family’s large vegetable garden when I was a little kid, I’d been growing tomatoes for over 40 years before ever seeing a hornworm, and haven’t yet seen any damage from one.

  City Diggity wrote @

If you haven’t seen one in all these years, it makes me wonder if there’s a connection to us both being in the Chicago area… At any rate they are some very creepy crawlers! I bet you never thought wasps would do you a favor 😉

  linda wrote @

Might be a connection Avis.

We also had loads more butterflies and dragonflies than usual. Maybe our record heat this summer had something to do with the seemingly general plethora of bugs this year.

I’ve never seen so many whiteflies in all my years gardening as I’ve seen this year. A couple of my clients had horrible whiteflies. They are everywhere, and I’ve seen more than I can ever remember of them in garden centers this season too. (and we won’t talk about the 3 x more than normal mosquito population this summer. 😐 )

  Christine wrote @

Hate tomato hornworms. Loved your post.

  Stephanie wrote @

You touched it? That’s horrible.. sorry… he he… But I am glad you have gotten rid of it. Btw, pests that I discovered in my garden, I have never taken a picture also… also, I will quickly get rid of them first!

  RG wrote @

I love your story! I actually have seen tons of those nasty hornworms and they never cease to gross me out! Last summer I pulled 19 off my tomato plants (and yes, I was literally pulling them off bare-handed and feeding them to the chickens!). This year I have only spotted a few so far – they blend in so well, but I am on constant lookout. There is a wasp that lays its eggs on the worm and it will be destroyed this way – so if you see little white things on them, it’s a good thing!

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