Tomato Terror….by Suzanne Dunaway
Well, not really, but growing tomatoes can be challenging even if both thumbs are green. To be clear, it’s not really the growing of them, but what one finds ON them when the season is underway.
In California, at least.
Here in France there is only the occasional stink bug with its little round, strangely shaped body and who knows why they are called that? I’ve sniffed a few stink bugs during my garden days and have never noticed a smell.
Perhaps the fragrant leaves of the tomato plants took over, along with the rosemary growing nearby, or the lavender just behind, or the long row of Genovese basil that took off this year, because the heat wave that blanketed France produced a bounty of pesto for memories of summer.
Still, I do remember the first time in my early gardener days that I was blithely searching among the leaves of my Big Boy and San Marzano tomatoes saw my first hornworm and screamed bloody murder!
Lordy, lordy, that long, slinky, bright green sectional caterpillar with one red eye/decoration (?) peering out from under the horny head/tail (?) almost made me give up gardening on the spot, but after a few too many had turned up on my precious plants, I declared worm war, even if they are not worms!
Very few safe pesticides deter this insistent creature, so I plunged in with a purchase of Branovid wasp larva, which actually attached themselves to the caterpillar and do unmentionable things from inside his body and…
I finally settled for Bacillius Thuringiensis, which, when ingested by my greedy green friends, would dispose of them and their families over time, but I did not want to wait!
These caterpillars travel in pairs, which made me wonder if fast procreation was easier on tomato leaves when you had your mate nearby, and yes, I found yet another one on my precious plant, now missing several leaves with teethmarks in them.
Hah, two of you, you little leaf-crunching-masticating marauders! I was not standing for that, not after I had planted my precious tomato seeds in sweet, black soil in March and watched them sprout into lovely little sturdy plants, then transplanted to a larger pot, and then another to enable strong roots. You get the picture.
And there was prospect of fresh tomato sauce all winter, simmered with a sweet onion and finished off with a spoon of butter, pinch of sugar and whizzed into glory with a hand mixer before heading for the freezer to await pasta, pizza, soups, stews, all of the lovely fall and winter dishes that achieve perfection with homegrown tomato sauce.
And the sweet tomatoes themselves, bathed in olive oil and nestling next to a mozzarella di bufala, or sliced on brown bread with mayo for southern tomato sandwiches, or simply plucked off the vine and bitten into, the fragrant juice running down my chin under the summer sun.
I was going to give up THAT?
No way, Jose.
Out went the wasp eggs, out went the organic, safe powders, and out went all benevolence I had attempted to feel for a creature of the planet, especially while he/she/it/they were devastating my Early Girls and Ondine de Cornue!
I saw only one way out, which was to scissor them in HALF with my trusty Fiskar kitchen shears, quick and neat (and they don’t multiply, unlike some halved creatures!)
And so, as they showed up over the growing season, with a snip my precious crop was saved!
It was the kindest cut of all.