No matter how you slice it…

…nothing says summer like a juicy ripe garden tomato!Oh so good!

They are the most delicious and most versatile fruit of the season. During the tomato season, either cooked or raw, tomatoes are a perfect accompaniment to any meal at our house. Whether raw in a salad or sandwich, roasted, in a sauce, on a pizza, in soups, stuffed, or in tarts, pies and even preserves, we can eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner and snacks. There are as many tomato recipes as there are varieties of tomatoes.

In Virginia, mister gardener grew 18 different varieties of the fruit. He depended on the tried-and-trues and experimented with the heirlooms and the unknowns. It was great fun to see and taste the differences. We had purple tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, orange tomatoes, speckled tomatoes, and some shaped like pears! There are no tomatoes in our New Hampshire garden. Instead we can select good variety from what is offered at local farmers’ markets.

Tomatoes!!!One of our favorite meals is mister gardener’s fresh gazpacho soup. With newly picked young cucumbers, onions and green peppers from farmers’ markets, mister gardener makes a large quantity of gazpacho to last us a few days and enough to share with family. Life would definitely be better if the fleeting tomato season would never end!

See a couple of mister gardener’s heirlooms in Virginia.

gazpacho

Tobacco Hornworm, a thing of wonder!

Who's eating my tomato plant?It was three weeks ago that I first noticed the bare tips on a branch of a tomato plant in my small kitchen garden. I looked beneath the plant and saw some telltale caterpillar poo and I knew what was hiding on the under the leaves of my plant. I carefully lifted branch after branch until I found it… a tobacco hornworm caterpillar, the larva of the sphinx moth.

It was a gorgeous 4” long pale green caterpillar with 5 pairs of prolegs and 7 white diagonal stripes on the sides of the body and a red-colored horn on the last segment.  It’s closely related to and often confused with the tomato hornworm caterpillar with similar markings but the red horn is a good identifying feature. I’ve read that tobacco hornworm is more prevalent in the southern United States and the tomato hornworm is found more in the northern states.Tobacco Hornworm

Both feed on plants in the nightshade family: tomato and tobacco and others such as potato, pepper or eggplant and these guys can wreak havoc in the garden and can cause extensive damage to plants. My big fellow had eaten 2 small unripe tomatoes and leaves on one small branch, however he was working alone and soon to enter the pupate stage so I left it on the plant.

Some natural bug deterrents are said to be red pepper sprinkled on the plants or a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and dish soap to repel them. Handpicking is an effective control in small gardens but one of the most common biological controls for the hornworm is the parasitic braconid wasp that lays its eggs inside the body of the caterpillar.  After hatching they bore through the skin of the caterpillar and attach white cocoons along the body. If you see one with the cocoons attached, do not kill the hornworm as the wasp will do the job.

pink spotted hawkmothThe large adult sphinx moth or hawkmoth is seen around flowers in my garden at dusk or dawn.  They are as graceful and agile as a hummingbird as they hover over blooms and flit quickly from flower to flower.  It’s a shame that something so full of wonder can begin life as a such a destructive insect in our gardens.

Annie, The Garden Club of Gloucester