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Thoughts From the Belly - April 2007

Posted by ironbelly 5a - Iowa (My Page) on
Sun, Apr 1, 07 at 10:47

Thoughts From The Belly
copyright April 2007
By: Dan Mays

I like gardening because it gives me time to ponder. I typically garden without any radio or other societal makers of noise because they are just unnecessary. While the topic of gardening can be eagerly discussed at length by any two people familiar with a trowel, the very act of gardening remains largely a solitary endeavor. To be sure; we all appreciate a little help with some of the larger, burdensome chores. However, the day-to-day futzing with plants in the soil almost always finds oneself in solitude.

I say "solitude" but the reality is that other sorts of friends surround me and lend assistance in my communion with Mother Nature. I have to wait for some of my friends to appear but appear they will. While doing spring clean-up chores, I recognize the egg sacs left behind by old friends like the praying mantis, who patrolled the mums at the northeast corner of my house or various other locations about the landscape. Their tawny-colored egg sacs are about the size of a small chicken egg. Actually, they look like an errant glob of insulating foam that dripped from a can of Great Stuff. I know that if I let that "blob-on-a-stem" remain in the garden, I will eventually get to meet their progeny. No doubt, they will also scramble to the top of plants, looking at me with great distain, whenever I spray water on their favorite plant; just as their mother did last year.

Other old gardening friends are a pair of robins that have learned to hang around me when I am digging. I developed a habit of throwing root-feeding grubs out into the street. The robins, in turn, recognize an easy meal when they see one. They have learned to hang-out at curbside whenever they see me in the garden. As they continue to grow more trusting, I can coax them closer and closer. However, if no grubs are forthcoming, they seem to admonish me with a nasty chirp, just to let me know they are still waiting.

Of course, not all immature forms of insect life found in the soil are dispatched to the robins. I take particular delight when I discover the pupae of the sphinx or hummingbird moth. These shiny, dark-brown capsules of life are about the size of your index finger, from the tip to the second knuckle. If one looks closely, you can see the long tongue (proboscis) stretched-out alongside the body; just beneath the half-transparent, amber-colored protective case. The fun comes later in the year when, typically in the early evening, you see these humming bird-sized moths darting about, sipping nectar from tubular flowers. They seem to particularly like Wave petunias. As flying adults, their tongues remain coiled beneath their head until they stretch it out (Almost two inches!) while hovering in front of their meal. (Link to more info.)

I tend to find these large pupae within several feet of where I grew tomatoes the previous year. When digging in these areas, I use extra caution to not damage these immature insects. Therefore, hand digging not rototilling is utilized in these areas. The relationship to last years tomatoes is no accident. The tomato horn worm is the larval form of the humming bird moth. Yes that big, green, eating machine (about the size of your entire index finger) devouring your tomato plants is the precursor to an adult insect we love to watch. Kill all of the tomato horn worms and you rob yourself of the later show.

Although I used to consider "the big, green, eating machine" a pest, I have learned to live with it. Lets face it those of us who grow tomatoes usually have them in abundance. Every year there are people taking their extra "love fruit" to work. Even then, they cant give them all away. Why not share a bit (I didnt say all!) with an insect that later provides so much delight? Actually, just watching that green monster eat is a field day in itself. You wonder how they can eat so darn much! But then it does come out almost as fast as it goes in! This curious, green worm with the horn on its tail blends in so well with tomato foliage that the droppings on the ground are usually the first hint of his presence. Follow the droppings upward and you will probably find your new buddy if you look close enough.

Pondering in the garden enriches your soul no radio required.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Thoughts From the Belly - April 2007

Wow! I had no idea that the tomato horn worm is the larval form of the hummingbird moth. I lost my one potted tomato plant last year to an elusive tomato horn worm but ended up seeing a hummingbird moth in late summer. Now, I'm almost glad I didn't catch him early on :) Thanks for the info.

Here is a link that might be useful: Extra info on hornworm

RE: Thoughts From the Belly - April 2007


I thought more people needed to know that fact. True to human nature, when one encounters something you know little to nothing about, the tendency is to not like it. This is especially (and unfortunately) true with members of the insect world. Sadly, what you most often hear coming out of people's mouths is: "Eeewww! That's icky. KILL IT, KILL IT!!!"

A little knowledge goes a long way. The world is filled with wonders if we just take a little time to get to know them.

I took the time to bump all of the other monthly "Thoughts" postings down the page. I get a little uncomfortable looking at them all setting there for months on end. I want this to be an IOWA Forum and not an IronBelly forum.

It is my sincere wish that folks both enjoy and learn a little from reading my monthly musings. The title word "Thoughts" was not chosen by accident. I truly hope that my words cause people to think about things -- hopefully from a different perspective than they are used to.

These articles are just little snippets of either meaningful and/or learning experiences I encounter in my daily life. I do not seek responses; although any comments are more than welcome.


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