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Farm Update: Tuesday, September 15

September 15, 2009

(Today, Laura picks worms off of tomatoes and thinks about beauty.)

Sometimes the ugliest biology is also the most beautiful. On Tuesday we spent part of the workday in the hoop house, harvesting tomatoes and suckering the plants. And of course, wherever there are tomatoes, you’re going to find tomato hornworms. Tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) are plump green caterpillars, about two inches in length, that feed on solanaceous plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  Difficult to spot among leafy green plants, they can best be found by looking for their droppings on a leaf and then checking the stems and leaves above. Earlier in the season, we picked hornworms off tomato plants by hand, but on Tuesday we saw that someone else had been doing the work for us. The hornworms we spotted were covered in small white cocoons produced by parasitoid wasp larvae (Cotesia congregatus) after eating their way through the hapless hornworm’s body.

Pretty to look at? No way. Useful? Absolutely.

A lot of the work we did on Tuesday was pretty. We harvested lovely, plump winter squash and used the four row seeder to sow precise rows of D’Avignon radishes. But being on the farm also teaches us to find things beautiful even when they’re far from pretty: organic matter decomposing in the compost, worms, mulch, and even a tomato hornworm with a back full of wasp’s pupae. Hope to see you all on Friday, when we’ll be harvesting for market!

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