« Meet Me Far Away From Here (And We'll Write a Mission Statement)Link Fiesta »
09.13.2003

Mom's Tomato Garden, Red in Tooth and Claw

I've spent the past two days at my mother's house, right on the ocean in the middle coast of Maine, enjoying the last of the summer. There is some very fancy flora and fauna here. The lower part of the garden is overrun by jewelweed, which has an unusual degree of entertainment value for a plant. Jewelweed has pretty orange flowers that eventually wither into little bean-like seed pods. The pods are held under tension, so that the lightest touch makes them split along the seams in a very wriggly way, with an audible 'pop', and scatter their seeds to the four corners of the lawn. Playing with jewelweed gives you the heebie jeebies - those seed pods feel like they're alive - but there's just no way to stop. If you need another excuse to let the stuff grow, jewelweed is good for poison ivy burns, and you can use it to make a decent yellow dye. Further out in the garden lives the formidable tomato hornworm, a creature I had never heard of until my mother brought in a tomato branch with a green caterpillar the size of a hot dog clinging to it. The hornworm is a machine for turning tomato leaves into hummingbird moths + caterpillar poop, and one is supposed to "hand-pluck" it from tomato plants into a bucket of soapy water to prevent the whole garden being eaten. While I am sure hand-plucking works, I will vouch for the fact that one can also use a very, very, very long stick to whack the beasties until their multiple feet all let go and they fall into the bucket of their own accord. Hornworms are creepy because they blend in so well to a tomato plant - you've got your hands all the way into a tomato bush, reaching for that one ripe fruit, and suddenly you notice there's an enormous green thing brushing against your cheek. Sometimes, though, the hornworms are easy to find: they're motionless and have a prominent collection of white ovals, like rice grains, stuck to their backs. This version of the hornworm looks even nastier than its incognito cousin, but it's actually a good sign. The white ovals are cocoons, and they indicate that a parasitic braconid wasp has found its way into your garden, and is helping rescue your tomatoes. The hornworm, paralyzed but alive, serves as a convenient buffet bar for the little wasp larvae, which then hatch and go on to inflict terror on other hornworms. In between, the braconid wasps subsist on nectar and pollen, like gentlemen. The braconids and their cousins, the ichneumonidae, are enough to give fits to anyone who claims Nature is always benign and good, or that it is the product of a Divine Creator who isn't a little messed up in the head. Darwin himself made the argument:

"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."
Which shows you that Darwin was not a tomato farmer. Nowadays it's easy to find arguments against the existence of a Divine Providence (off the top of my head: raspberry-flavored coffee, Barney the Dinosaur, the Bush Administration), but Darwin had to work with what he was given. And you have to admit that, for sheer ookiness, it's hard to top a creature that paralyzes you and then lays eggs that feast on your still-living flesh.

« Meet Me Far Away From Here (And We'll Write a Mission Statement)Link Fiesta »
Idle Words

brevity is for the weak




Greatest Hits

The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel
The story of America's most awesome infrastructure project.

Argentina on Two Steaks A Day
Eating the happiest cows in the world

Scott and Scurvy
Why did 19th century explorers forget the simple cure for scurvy?

No Evidence of Disease
A cancer story with an unfortunate complication.

Controlled Tango Into Terrain
Trying to learn how to dance in Argentina

Dabblers and Blowhards
Calling out Paul Graham for a silly essay about painting

Attacked By Thugs
Warsaw police hijinks

Dating Without Kundera
Practical alternatives to the Slavic Dave Matthews

A Rocket To Nowhere
A Space Shuttle rant

Best Practices For Time Travelers
The story of John Titor, visitor from the future

100 Years Of Turbulence
The Wright Brothers and the harmful effects of patent law

Every Damn Thing

2015 May Jul
2014 Jul Aug
2013 Feb Dec
2012 Feb Sep Nov Dec
2011 Aug
2010 Mar May Jun Jul
2009 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep
2008 Jan Apr May Aug Nov
2007 Jan Mar Apr May Jul Dec
2006 Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
2005 Jan Feb Mar Apr Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2004 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Oct Nov Dec
2003 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2002 May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Your Host

Maciej Cegłowski


Threat

Please ask permission before reprinting full-text posts or I will crush you.