One day you have a picture-perfect tomato on the vine. You let it grow one more day, to get a little more juicy and vine-ripened. And the next morning you wake to see the tomato half eaten, the vine stripped bare. And you know that Hornworm is back.
For several years now I’ve waited, or I’ve forgotten that Perfect Tomato and his relatives grace the raised bed, waiting with their collars still tinged with green. I’ll wait a few more hours until they’re fully red, fully ripe. And the next day they are decimated along with the plant that stands as leafless as a miniature cell tower.
Hornworm hangs on the underside of whatever foliage is left, his pudgy green self, swollen to size of my pinkie.
Get yourself some Sevin dust, you say. Fog the tomato patch, but the point of raising organic tomatoes is to avoid pesticides. So I lie in wait, eyes peeled for Hornworm.
Growing tomatoes successfully is knowing when to harvest before you’re sorry. The certainty of Hornworm is Murphy’s Law in action. If anything can go wrong, it will. He’s the diner who orders the last piece of pie while you debate, he’s the driver who cuts into the prized parking spot, the Ticketmaster customer who snaps up the last Paul McCartney ticket before your fingers can press “buy.”
This year will be different. As my tomatoes blush into perfect globes, I will check each evening for a nibbled leaf, a sign that Hornworm has dropped by for happy hour.
He has gorged on the equivalent of three trips to the buffet at Golden Corral. Pulling him from the plant in mid-munch will make me shiver. I will don garden gloves because I can’t stand the feel of his prickly little feet.
If I’m an early bird, I’ll get the worm. Carpe diem, seize the day. I will pick the tomato now, while there’s still time.