While sorting through the tangle of tomato branches this evening, I came across another tomato horn worm.  I had read that the hawkmoth (also known as the sphinx or hummingbird moth) sometimes produces two generations in a year and I am now in a position to confirm this assertion.  Like the previous two times I spotted a horn worm, it was a bit startling at first.  The worm did not move into view—in fact, it did not appear to be moving at all.  Instead, I suddenly become aware that I was staring at one.  It is as if the worm had materialized instantaneously out of thin air.

I have become accustomed to their appearance but this horn worm was different:  Its back and sides were covered with small, white cocoons that I knew from previous research to be those of a braconid wasp, one of the horn worm’s natural predators.  Rather than squish the worm’s guts out (as a friend of mine might have suggested), I cut off the branch to which it clung and tossed it into the woods.  I do not think that the worm will have time to return to the garden (if it is even capable of doing so) before the wasps emerge to feed on it.  Perhaps squishing the horn worm would have been more humane but allowing the wasps to live is ultimately better for my garden and the environment.  The worm will be making a noble (if unknowing) sacrifice.

I’m not certain how long the horn worm was hiding amongst the tomato vines but discovering it provides me with additional motivation to more extensively prune the tomato plants next year.  We will have to keep a closer eye on them—this year, they experienced a growth spurt that seemed to occur overnight—and then be ruthless in our trimming.  Higher supports might also help (we used three-foot-high cages this year) by giving the vines more room to spread out.

I’ve been giving a fair amount of attention to the plants that have continued to underperform but should give equal time to those that have turned around.  The Swiss chard most notably, which got off to an excruciatingly slow start, finally responded to something (whether fertilizer, water, temperature, who knows?) and for the last few weeks has been sending up enough large, vibrant gold and green leaves to make a side dish for two dinners (so far).  Now that it has gotten going, it shows no sign of stopping.  This is extremely gratifying (patience rewarded!) and particularly delicious (chard is one of my favorite vegetables).  Also, this chard does not shrink as much during cooking as does chard from the supermarket or even the farmers’ market.

With the drier weather, I was able to more closely inspect the leaves of the remaining cucumber plants.  There were no signs of spores or soggy spots on the undersides of the leaves so I cannot confirm that downy mildew is present.  It is possible that the cucumbers are merely reacting to too much water.  We received four inches of rain over the last three days and Irene dumped over six inches of rain on us in just over 24 hours.  The threshold for watering is one inch per week so our garden has seen about five times as much water as it needs lately.  If our planter were not raised and well-drained, everything in it would be rotten and moldy.