worms and guts

An interesting post at dirtywordsgarden about cole crop cabbageworms and other delicacies got me thinking about these things.  The post mentions Spinosad, an organic insecticide that kills by contact and ingestion.  I’ve read good things about it, but have yet to try it.

But I have had excellent results controlling cabbage loopers with Bt, or Bacillus Thuringiensis, an organic, bacteria-based product that attacks the guts of only leaf-eating caterpillars.  I spray my cole crops conscientiously with Bt after rains or watering, and it really does keep the little green buggers out of my life.

A much more frightening caterpillar is the tomato hornworm.

My beautiful daughter with her ugly friend

My beautiful daughter with her beastly friend

These things have absolutely the best camouflage ever conceived by God.  You can look right at them and miss them, even when they’re hot-dog-sized.  You know they’re in your tomatoes, because the tops of your plants are missing and there are clumps of green monster doo scattered on the remaining leaves. And if you’re slow to act, it can quickly become ugly.

I found one by chance last year, but I can’t crush these things.  It’s no problem for me to massacre most anything that dares to mess with my garden (granddaughter excluded).   I even enjoy squishing sex-crazed Japanese beetles with my bare fingers.  But to see what might come out of a squashed tomato hornworm?  Uh uh.

There’s no need for squishing.  That BT that I mentioned earlier?  Size isn’t an issue for it.  Hopefully bigger guts mean bigger indigestion.  I started spraying BT on all my tomato plants immediately after that picture was taken, and there were no further incidents.

And in case you think I’m heartless, I grabbed my granddaughter and we walked this monster worm a good distance from the garden and then released it.  Its son or daughter will no doubt come back to thank me next year.

By the way, the tomato hornworm turns into the Sphinx moth.

neem oil

Last year was the first year I tried neem oil.  To be honest, last year was the first year I’d even heard of neem oil.  It’s an organic oil pressed from an evergreen called the (you guessed it) neem tree.

Last night I was reminded of neem oil by a post on bunchofcilantro about the end of the season.

From what I had researched, neem oil isn’t harmful to bees or butterflies, but repels cabbage worms, thrips, whiteflies, mites, fungus gnats, beetles, moth larvae, caterpillars, locust, nematodes and the Japanese Beetle.

That last one caught my attention.  Japanese beetle.  It would be hard to choose an evil I’d take more pleasure in ‘repelling’ (read smashing for an extra long time under a really hard boot); squash bugs or Japanese beetles.  I’d probably take squash bugs first, but Japanese beetles are a definite 1A choice.

For years they’ve laced the leaves of my raspberry bushes, as well as my bean plants and grape leaves and corn silk.  Those smell traps are worthless, even compounding the problem by attracting more beetles.

So I gave it a try.  I picked up some neem oil at Amazon, along with a nifty little sprayer to shoot it from.

neem oil

garden sprayer

Now the thing about neem oil, as Jose at bunchofcilantro pointed out, is that you have to use it even when you don’t see bugs.  It’s a deterrent.

And it works.

I’ve never had so few Japanese beetles.  My wife and I got to eat the raspberries this year, rather than beefing up the next generation of super-fat Japanese beetle grubs. Oh, there were a few of those gorging sex orgies on the raspberry leaves.  But I kind of enjoy ending an occassional glutton-sex session with a vengeful, forceful pinch.  Boy, that last sentence reads bad.

The neem oil even seemed to repel my nemesis, the squash bug.  I only found a couple of them, and that’s absolutely amazing.  They’ve decimated my pumpkins and zucchini in the past.

But wait, there’s more.  Neem oil is useful against fungi, mildews and rusts.

Now the raspberry success could have had something to do with all the used coffee grounds I spread around the plants in spring, or the beautiful worm tea I sprayed on the leaves.  But my gut tells me most of the help came from the neem oil.

It works.  What can I say?  I’m hooked.