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A Bumper Tomato Crop — Not!

The lone tomato in the above photo constitutes our entire tomato crop this year.  Seriously.  How is this possible, you might ask.  I know it sounds inept, gardening-wise, but here’s what happened…

We’ve always enjoyed growing vegetables, even when we had only a small garden in Virginia Beach, so when we moved to the country a few years ago, we had visions of row after row of all our favorite produce, ripe for the picking. Boy, were we naive.

The first couple of years we managed to grow some decent tomatoes and green beans.  Our herbs were fantastic.  The lettuce, spinach, and other greens were amazing, too — what little we actually got to eat of it.  To the rabbits, deer, and other wildlife who share our property, our vegetable garden was their all-you-can-eat buffet.  The following year was much the same, as we tried to pick at least a small portion of the produce before everyone else got to it.  Then came a drought, and everything basically dried up — even our wonderful blackberries. It was discouraging. (At least I still had some blackberry coulis in the freezer from the previous year’s harvest.)

Long story short, this year we decided we’d had enough of gardening disappointment.  Aside from an herb garden, all we planted were a few tomato plants in pots on the deck.  We figured this was a safe bet since none of the animals really bothered our tomato plants anyway, and they’d be less likely to venture up onto the deck.

Over the last several weeks our tomato plants were doing well.  They greened, grew, and became heavy with tomatoes, a few were just starting to turn red.  Then one day last week I did a double-take.  ALL of the tomato leaves were GONE.  Bitten off, leaving just little stubs of stems.  Looking closer, I saw that some of the tomatoes were bitten into as well.  A bite here and a bite there — just enough to ruin all of them! It seemed like a practical joke. The bite marks didn’t look like they came from any animal I recognized.  Then I saw the culprit, clinging to what was left of one of the plants.  I was too flustered to get the camera and have since missed other opportunities to snap a photo, so I found this photo of the perpetrator online to show you:

A giant green caterpillar like this (only ours is even bigger, if you can believe it) has eaten into all of our tomatoes — all but one. A consolation: we think he is going to metamorphose into a Spicebush Swallowtail (pictured below). On the other hand, it appears that we will never metamorphose into gardeners.
EDIT:  I take back the assumption that it was going to be a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.  Knowledgeable readers have informed me that it is probably a tomato hornworm.  Yikes! (although there was no horn on the one I saw).
We plan to feast on our lone tomato this evening.  At least we got one tomato out of our “bumper” crop!  Sometimes it’s those little victories…
UPDATE:  So we ate our lone tomato, and guess what?  It wasn’t even that good.  So go ahead and eat the tomatoes, you caterpillars!  I’ll get mine from the farmer’s market.

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