Enjoying Our Worm Days: Veggie Share Week #8 – July 26th

 In CSA Newsletter

Enjoying Our Worm Days

Thick in the tall, leafy celery in the hoop house this morning, I found a sphinx moth.

Seeing this beautiful, huge black and white moth felt special. With its wings spread, it’s wider than my palm. Its beefy body is black and speckled with rusty orange dots. Its antenna are long, furry, and white.  

Its wings were drying, so I was able to pick it up and really admire its beauty. Generally speaking, it’s not good to pick up a winged creature that’s drying its newly metamorphosized body. 

I did this only because the sphinx moth is the gorgeous, beautifully aged version of a tomato horn worm. In other words, this magnificent creature is a terrible pest. 

Tomato horn worms grow to be as long as your index finger, as thick as your thumb. They are light green – exactly the same color as a tomato leaf, their primary food. Efficient eaters, a tomato horn worm can completely defoliate a vibrant tomato plant in just a couple of days. They also poop quite a bit, and that poop lands on the tomatoes, making them ones we don’t harvest. Such pests!

Hornworm hunting is a favorite past time of mine when I’m harvesting sungold tomatoes in our hoop house. After many years of knowing them, they still make my stomach feel a little jiggly-woozy. I either stomp them dead on the ground or take them to my chickens, who view them as a delicacy. 

So here I am, holding this fascinating, gorgeous creature in my hand. The sphinx moth, a mature tomato horn worm. I wanted to photograph it, capture its beauty, but I felt it was wrong to do so, because I knew the future of this moth. 

I was going to kill it. 

If left in my hoophouse, this sphinx moth would only reproduce and lay more horn worm eggs on our tomatoes. If I were to release it, the moth would only have to fly just 200 feet to find our field tomatoes and do its damage out there. 

The farmer in me knew the answer, but the living soul that’s interconnected to all living things had to pause for a minute.  Pests are not always ugly. Pests are often fascinatingly gorgeous. A part of me feels sad to end the life of something so fragile and beautiful. 

I paused, then threw it down on the ground and stomped it quickly.

Matt was with me in the hoop house, and he joked, saying that the moth had lived all its days as a worm only to be killed once it made it through its mystical metamorphosis. We glibly joked: 

“It was finally discovering the truth meaning of life!” [Matt]

“Yeah, death!” [Cassie]

“I hope it didn’t spend all its worm days hoping for wings.” [Matt]

Even though the jokes were glib, they are hanging with me this morning. There is so much truth in them.

No one knows how long they will be on this earth – and the knowledge of death gives our lives meaning. Here’s hoping none of us spend all our worm days hoping for wings.