The tomato hornworm caterpillar is a garden pest that can
defoliate an entire plant within hours.
It’s dark outside and although I’m still snuggled beneath a
mound of covers, my husband is not by my side.
He’s been up for hours, outside and active. It’s hunting season – not for deer or turkeys
or game animals of any sort. His target
is garden pests - the slow-moving snail, slimy slug, smelly stinkbug and leaf-defoliating
Although Ralph doesn’t carry a gun, he’s not without
weapons. In one hand is a flashlight, in
the other a container of soapy water.
When prey is spotted, he swipes the offensive bug into the soapy mixture
to meet its sudsy demise.
I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes when my bright-eyed
husband concludes his hunt, shuts the door and comes inside.
“You should see all the stinkbugs I caught!” he says while I
totter unsteadily toward the bathroom. “I
found a couple big, black caterpillars.
You should come out and see.”
|Stinkbugs are a menace in the garden as well as in the orchard. A pair mate while clinging to an unripe mulberry.|
I give him a look that I hope combines my support for his
efforts with a strong dose of leave-me-alone-until-I’ve-washed-my-face.
A half-hour later, a more coherent me joins him in the
kitchen for breakfast.
“What time did you get up?” I mutter while filling a tall mug with caffeinated
“Around 5a.m.,” he replies.
“I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d check on the plants.”
My husband is passionate about his gardens, especially his broccoli
plants. Unfortunately, many garden pests
share his passion for members of the Cruciferous family (broccoli, kale,
cabbage, etc.) They nibble holes in the
leaves, suck juice from the stems and gnaw their way into the inner chamber of
|Although I'm holding it, my husband grew this beautiful head of broccoli, his all-time favorite vegetable |
Although Ralph is opposed to
using toxic sprays in his garden, his arsenal does include a few biological weapons
approved for organic gardens.
kills caterpillars by using Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) bacteria to paralyze their digestive tracts.
is a sesame oil-based spray effective on a wide
range of small soft-bodied insects.
is a broad-spectrum insecticide that, like Thuricide,
uses bacteria to cause digestive disruption.
In addition, it attacks insect nervous systems, killing on contact.
Although biological controls are effective for short periods,
they only work well in dry weather. The
lightest downpour washes their potency away.
Handpicking pesky bugs, however, has no limitations. Insects can be collected rain or shine, day
or night, although nighttime seems to be their most active period.
|A black caterpillar on the squash plant is about to be swept off into a bucket of soapy water|
That brings me back to my husband’s pre-dawn, post-dusk and
occasional midnight forays into the garden with flashlight and bucket in hand. While I sleep, he’s doing his best to protect
the food that feeds his family.
When I think of hunters, I think of men in camouflaged clothing
toting rifles or bows and arrows. I
think of men who get up early to follow deer tracks in the sand or huddle
behind duck blinds in the marsh. If they’re
successful, they’ll bring home meat for dinner.
My husband doesn’t eat meat but that doesn’t make his hunting any less meaningful. Thanks to his perseverance and persistency, Ralph’s
efforts yield some of the freshest, tastiest vegetables I’ve ever eaten. He grows, protects and diligently provides
food for the table. In that way, he’s
not unlike the hunter stalking wild game in season.
I’m proud of Ralph’s efforts and applaud his successes. If I have any complaint, it concerns his effusiveness. While I find his unbridled enthusiasm endearing,
I wish he’d restrain himself until I’m more fully awake. One cup of tea – that’s all I ask. If he’d only wait to tell me about his bug-hunting
adventures until after I’ve had my first mug, I’d be ever so grateful.