Sunday, October 5, 2008

Of Caterpillars and Rain

Tomato Hornworms and a Half-Eaten Tomato

Ella Gleefully Running Through Surf Foam at Mattole Beach

Three days ago, I ventured out into our lovely garden to pick all ripe tomatoes, in preparation for the season's first serious rain. We woke up on Friday morning to very ominous and steely looking skies, and one glance out the window left us no doubt that the predicted showers would arrive hours earlier than forecast, which effectively meant at any moment. It was already raining up in Mill Creek to the south west. We were suddenly into high gear, getting breakfast eaten so I could cover up some last minute things like, oh, a table saw, and Drew could finish up his mulching and seeding at his project site.

Anyhow, tomatoes don't like to get wet on their very ripe skin. When they DO, their smooth, red, and luscious skin splits, and creates ugly scars. Hmmm, something isn't right here. What looks off...? Hey, someone has been eating my tomato plants! I found a tiny scat on a leaf. It looked like a small blackberry, with several rows of individual balls, arranged in a cylinder. I have never seen such a scat. It appeared that the critter had scaled the tomato trellis, and nibbled the top leaves of several of the vines. Ella and I picked all the ripe tomatoes and headed inside, as the rain was beginning to fall. Well, off to my Peterson's Guide of Animal Tracks and Sign to search for a culprit.

These were definitely not mouse or rat scat. The closest I could get was squirrel. But the drawing of scat was not detailed enough to be sure. Besides, I don't often hear squirrels in our forest, and I have never heard of them eating tomato vines. I complained about my thief to several people that day. They had even eaten several green tomatoes!

Well, on Saturday morning, I enticed Drew to the tomato patch in our brief, before-breakfast moment outdoors, to show him the damage. We talked about it for a minute, and then we found more scat, and THEN, Drew said, "Could this be your culprit?" A large, green caterpillar! But however large, it was not big enough to eat a tomato, or make poop of the size I found. And then Drew found another one, MUCH larger, oh yes: this one could make the poop and eat a tomato. And THEN we found two more that were successively larger. Ha! Squirrels!

The intrepid Tomato Hornworm, I presume. I've never had them as a pest, but apparently, they found my vines delectable. We could only find the four, and are hoping that there aren't any more. They are VERY difficult to spot, but my, are they impressive. I guess they sometimes have a late summer hatch, clearly what we are experiencing here.

Oh, and Cooskie Mountain did receive about 3 inches of rain, though we ourselves probably only got 1.5-2. The earth has just soaked it up, and the creeks, though a little larger, are still rather lazy. We went to the beach on Saturday, hoping to see the mouth of the Mattole open, and it was closed, but we got a call today (Sunday) that it had opened. Darn! Missed it again! I guess we'll have to try again next year.

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