I am a vendictive gardener (lots of possibly unappetizing pics)

jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)August 5, 2011

My tomatoes this year are gorgeous, so I was stunned to notice that something was destroying them... rapidly! Not just the leaves, but the fruit, and the eggplant was getting eaten too. Steve thought it was a chipmunk, but I'd noticed some giant caterpillar poop near the worst of the damage and suspected the worst: tomato hornworms. It took me nearly ten minutes of staring at the plants until I finally found one. Nearly four inches long and as big around as a finger. Blech! I had a hard time putting it into a jar. These buggers can really hold on tight!

In the next hour or so, I found four more. I couldn't help but call my neighbor over to look at the ugly beasts. Nor could I help showing them to her teenage son and his friends, who were as fascinated/repulsed by them as I was.

I didn't kill them right away --- not because I didn't want them dead, but because they were so big I had to figure out the best way to get rid of them. So I googled for a little while to figure out what to do next. I don't know what came over me, maybe because I was using chopsticks to try to arrange them next to a tape measure to take a few pics (why didn't I think to put them in a martini glass as a measure of scale?) and it occurred to me they'd be big enough to stir fry... so I googled "tomato hornworm recipes." Imagine my horror when it yielded 40,000+ hits. It was a culinary train wreck. I was hooked. I couldn't unthink it. I couldn't look away.

I didn't think my neighbor would go for it, but putting a dare before teenage boys is easy pickins' (even if they're so picky in real life that they won't eat tomatoes, which one of them is). I knew Steve would be game: before he went to med school, he earned a masters in medical etymology and parasitology, and spent nine months doing research and living with the natives in the Amazon basin in Columbia and Brazil, eating some unusual things in the process, on account of there not being any grocery stores. My curiosity had been piqued. I had to do it. In fifteen minutes (at 10:00 pm on a weeknight) I had a friend, a spouse, and three teenage boys in my kitchen.

The posts on the internet claimed it was a very tomato-ey flavor, not unlike soft shell crab. I will not dispute that description. The boys were an absolute hoot, and although none of them ate more than half of their worms, each tried a good portion. Steve said he wouldn't mind having it again. I hope I never have enough worms to do so. There was something villainously delightful about serving them up on a slice of fried green tomato with a bit of basil on the side. The flavors were well matched, but it was so poetically just, I'm still giggling at the audacity of it.

If you haven't closed this post and run in terror yet, it's possible you might be wired as weirdly as I. If so, I submit for your train wreck viewing pleasure:

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Oh... my....Wow. See, truth really is stranger than fiction. LOL. Those rascals are so darn hard to see on the plant aren't they? They sure have that camouflage down pat. I think your solution is brilliant. I couldn't do it here or Christy would be gagging for a month just at the thought.. maybe longer. LOL. Love it. Thanks for sharing your evil payback. You really should share this over on the cooking forum. DCArch will never get another complaint over there.. lol. He got a hard time for cooking his hosta blossoms and his daylilies.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 2:26AM
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tibs(5/6 OH)

So artistically arranged on the plates. Nice presentation. I would probably try a tiny tiny nibble. Hmmmm....I wonder if there are any recipes for japanese beetles?

Dont they turn into really aamazing moths Luna maybe?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 7:26AM
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What's not to like? Well, not everyone likes tomatoes, I guess.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 7:33AM
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Just good that I swallowed before reading your post, otherwise I would have half chewed hard boiled egg all over the computer. Don't know when I laughed that hard.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 8:01AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I'm not into tasting those things, but your story was well-written and fun to read. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 9:29AM
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owiebrain(5 MO)

*standing ovation*

You are my hero.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:09AM
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The presentation was just beautiful and speaks to your culinary education, Michelle. I am sitting here wondering what wine would best compliment them. I think perhaps Liebfraumilch or another nice Riesling? I think the sweet might offset the greentomato aftertaste. I'd rather eat worms than fried green tomatoes anyway.

Actually this looks way more appetising than an eel pizza I once ate.

Tomato hornworms are actually really pretty moths. I remember finding a stranded hornworm caterpiller in one of my greenhouses and I felt sorry for it and carried it out to my veggie garden and let it loose. LOL. Those sorts of things are learning curves. What amazes me is how much they can defoliate. Sort of like photosynthetic pirhana.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:40AM
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Love it Michele, the floral/grape design of the plates set it off nicely. New experiences for the young uns is always a good thing. Broadens their perspective on life.

Your write up is notable and should be sent to a fine cooking show or magazine, it would win awards and be remembered for a long time. I envy your free spirit in life and ability to think out of the box. Kudos.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:40AM
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As the mother of three boys, I can imagine quite well the scene in your kitchen.

My boys would have sat there, going yummy and smacking their lips. They would have tried to out-gross each other. The winner in THAT contest would have been the one that got their father to leave the table. He's not good at Gross.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:43AM
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Welcome, join in the fun. We have some brilliant minds here and your brilliant minds would be a wonderful addition. Check out the quotes sign up thread and go for it, see if you enjoy a week and then stay or resume lurking.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:48AM
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Bwaaaa Haaaaa Haa. You rock. I have had many ideas and experiments but none have been executed as artfully as yours.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:19AM
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I forgot to ask....did you slay the beast first, or did you just roll them in the corn meal and drop them in the hot oil?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:37AM
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Hey, I've eaten rattlesnake with no problem, but I draw the line at hornworms. No flippin' way! However, I loved the article and the way it was written. It was hysterical to think of you getting even with the hornworms by cooking and eating them along with the tomatoes. A bit of gardening justice. Way to go!

I know there are places in the world where grasshoppers and fried ants are a delicacy, but I don't think I want to go that route either.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 12:13PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

I love it! You should post on the Tomato and Cooking forums. What a hoot!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 12:14PM
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I made it to the end. Whew. I am an adventurous sort when it comes to food, but I just don't think I'd have even tried it. Did you? I see the boys and Steve, but you are glaringly missing. Or at least you dodged saying it forthrightly. They seem like they'd pop and ooze. I just couldn't do it. I'm shivering with disgust. EW. Great job cooking and plating it.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 12:24PM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

Rob, I ate one. The whole thing. Admittedly, it was the little guy. Truth be told, it wasn't bad. Different, yes. Disgusting, no. You know the way your skin smells on a hot summer day when you've been working in your garden, brushing up against your tomatoes? Ever stop twice to smell it because it's so good? You know the fresh taste of a fried green tomato? The texture of soft shell crab? Combine all these things together. It's not bad. And really, how could a person who is not disgusted by shrimp be disgusted by these. Shrimp are basically marine cockroaches, eating who-knows-what off the ocean floor. These guys have had a pristine diet of nothing but my organic tomatoes and eggplant.

Surprisingly, my least favorite aspect of the experiment was the corn meal. I much prefer flour for fried things, and would have substituted, had this not been such new territory for me.

Suzy, your questions about wine pairings intrigue me. There are few contexts in which I enjoy sweet wines. I'd have probably served a Vihno Verde. I recently bought an inexpensive, yet satisfying case: Quinta da Aveleda 2010 from Portugal. It's crisp, ever so slightly effervescent, has a hint of lemon to cut through the rounder fruit notes (peach? melon?), and is a perfect hot weather wine. I think an acid note was missing from the preparation.

Agnes, to answer your question, I rinsed them off well and plopped them (still live) into the hot oil. No corn meal. I fried them for a good four minutes and then hit them with a little salt when I took them out. They do leak a little leaf and tomato juice, especially if your oil is hot, so I'd probably fry these babies last if I did it again.

Actually, if I did it again (and I might), I think I'd go a tempura route. I'd do them up with slices of green tomato (the combo is a winner), eggplant, onion, and maybe some squash blossoms, and serve them with a savory dipping sauce. In my mind, these things are begging to be eaten with chopsticks, and the boys were afraid to bite into them and asked for knives. Maybe an eater could concentrate more on the flavor and less on looking at the beastie if it was in a tempura cloud.

I tried to find some again this morning and was unsuccessful... but with a little research, I learned that these things glow like scorpions under black light. I will be out in my garden at nightfall with my black light to eradicate the rest of these critters from my solanaceae. The jury is still out on where I go from there.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:04PM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

For the record, I really *do* know how to spell "vindictive." Sheesh!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:09PM
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Oh! What a great start to reading posts this afternoon. Thanks for sharing that...I enjoyed reading about this adventure far more than I probably should have!

(I didn't notice the misspelling, but I was immediately sucked right into your story.)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:47PM
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Quinta da Aveleda. Hmmmmmm had to read up on this one and I think I'd like it very much. Its taste sounds similar to a nice wine our local vinyard produces. Also meant to be consumed young and especially nice for summer. The owners are very honest that the tastes of their wines can vary wildly from year to year and don't seem to be so concerned that they're terribly consistant and I find that fun because it makes them surprising and they're always good.

Thumbs up on tempura the next time. I do tempura about once a month to lure my DH into eating oriental. The old Japanese way is so simple..a one to one mixture of flour/egg/and one cup of icy water. You'd eat a lump of coal fried that way. I have advanced his diet from Katsudon to spicy Chinese by tempura meat. LOL. It was like training a little kid to eat their veggies.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:48PM
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Shrmip don't ooze after their snappy bite baby!

That sounds like one terrific summer wine. I'll have to check it out!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 1:56PM
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Oh, Michelle---YUCK!!! However, once I had read your intriguing post, I couldn't resist looking at the pictures. You actually made them look. . . beautiful. . .not appealing to me, but very interesting. I have such a Plebian (sp.?), unsophisticated palate--along with the rest of me, if the truth is told--that I would probably never taste one, but your preparation and presentation of them should certainly be shared with a wider audience.

I never noticed the misspelling, either.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 3:36PM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

I have a few thoughts.

2. You're my hero, too
3. That really is a good presentation
4. Did they squirm when they went in the hot oil? Were they already dead?
5. Those things are FREAKING HUGE!!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:22PM
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I bow before you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I agree forward those pics to the food network or Martha Stewart , Paula Dean. Copy write Fried green tomato and Horn Worm sandwhiches !!

On a more practical note , did you "purge" them before hand ? A bath in milk or salt water empties the intestinal track.

While i totally agree with the choice of corn meal as more authentic, 1/2 flour 1/2 corn starch would be light and crispy or to be hip for the next month PANKO PANKO PANKO!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:42PM
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John would be proud of you.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 4:58PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

MMm....prolly not.....
But your pictures are lovely!!....sort of....
They turn into a hawk moth...that one that can be mistaken for a humming bird...

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 5:23PM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

Jessica, the answer to #4 is yup, they squirmed. Wish I'd have snapped a photo of the teenage boys' jaws dropping in unison as one of them said "Wait, you're really cooking these? We're really going to eat them?" It didn't last too long. I couldn't think of a way to kill them that didn't involve compromising their wholeness or their freshness.

PunkinHead, you're supposed to purge them? Really? Oops! What I did do is keep them all together in a jar for a couple hours (except to throw them briefly at they boys and laugh as they tried to be cool about it, but mostly failed). The worms pretty much cleaned out most of their intestinal tracks in the process, and I did give them a little bit of a scrub in a colander before I threw them in the hot oil. I'd actually considered panko, but had used it all up in the eggplant Parmesan I'd made earlier in the evening.

If I find any more under the black light this evening, it's tempura all the way, baby!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 6:47PM
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Excellent presentation. If you want to put sound to your pics, go out in early morning and record their "chomping" sound.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 8:29PM
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Yes. Definitely panko breaded.

(Maybe I could like up flour, beaten egg, and panko in a lone and get the little buggers to march through them in order and down a ramp into the oil.)

By the way, so you get the menu right, from the diagonal marking, I think you have tobacco hornworms, which also eat tomatoes, rather than actual tomato hornworms that have bufurcating laid over "V" shape side markings.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:33PM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:31PM
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I enjoyed reading your adventure.Personally I would not be able to taste a worm. I love fried green tomatoes and each time I eat one, that cooked worm will come to mind.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 12:03AM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

Gerald, my only regret is that one cannot "like" a post on GW, because I would like the bejeezus out of yours. That image is priceless!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 12:08AM
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ronf_gw(z4 MN)

How poetically just. Having raised 4 sons I can imagine the scene in the kitchen. What great presentation. Have you thought about contacting Chef Ramsey?


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:20PM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

As ugly and nasty in a tomato garden as they are, don't Tomato Hornworms turn into beautiful butterflies? I found one eating my cherry tomatoes, knocked it off with a stick, threw it to the ground, and ran it over and over with my lawnmower.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:42PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

LOVE it! I've eaten all kinds of critters, but never an insect. Your table presentation was perfect, lol.

Tobacco hornworms (tomato hornworms have black horns) are the larva of big and beautiful sphinx moths, not the distinctive hummingbird moths, though they behave similarly. Attached are some images of the adult.

You were so lucky to find 5 fat caterpillars that were without the usual parasites! ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Tobacco Hornworm/Sphinx Moth

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:43PM
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vicki7(z7 N.Ga.)

Now that made my day. I don't think I would have been quite so brave or creative. As someone already said, I'll never again see one of those worms without remembering this post.

Serves them right (no pun intended)
Well done (again, no pun intended)

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:46PM
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amywlash(Zone 7)

Wonder if they would pass for sweet and sour chicken if they were cooked tempura style? Just to trick the hubby into trying it. Of course he would be half way thru his food before I would have to make an excuse not to eat it.

Rhizo, wasn't the sphinx moth what was in "The Silence of the Lambs" ?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 3:47PM
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Hi Jazmynsmom,

Great story.

Seems to me that your worms are a bit thinn-ish.

What I'm wondering is ... how did Jazmyn react?

I've only found one, rather smallish one, in my garden ... so far.

Hadn't thought of treating it as you did.

Dog'll (actually, female canine) eat most anything ... but draws the line at tomato worms (or other kinds, as far as I know). She's one that I'm dogsitting for a friend ... who is less than enthused about getting her back redolent of skunk.

Cats haven't shown any interest, either ... maybe they would, if I fried 'em.

Having lived in the orient for a while, I've eaten some rather exotic stuff, including, I suspect, dog, as I had some rather unusual meat in some soup ...

... and saw an empty dog-hide being carried across the yard, later.

Being rather frugal myself ... maybe I should try some: can't beat the price (and one gets a bonus, in less ravaged tomatoes - but that'd be the same were one to have tromped 'em underfoot; they do make a green, oozy, rather gory mess ... quite a large one, if you nab a big one.

And, yes, they do resist.

ole joyfuelled

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 3:55PM
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Shades of Erma Bombeck. I'm sure she would have loved your tale!
Great job, Kathy G in MI

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 4:39PM
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Love it! The story, the concept, and the presentation.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 6:37PM
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Well, the aboriginal people in Africa, Australia and South America eat whatever is available, including grubs and termites, so I imagine a hornworm would be a culinary treat to them. I was thinking more along the lines of a green smoothie, but I guess frying them could work.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 9:12AM
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    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 10:43AM
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Michelle, this is awesome! So many *new* folks have commented on your great post and pictures; let's hope they come by, again.

I shared your post and picturs with my DH, and he said it gave him goosebumps. He also said if we see a big worm of any kind on our two tomato plants, that's when we'll stop having home-grown tomatoes! (We're not very adventurous.) :>)

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 11:24AM
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gandle(4 NE)

I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater but am afraid my libation of choice might be Everclear if I had to eat of of your admittedly nicely presented entrees

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 6:39PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

Absolutely priceless.

I am reminded of a coworker who told of his grandson, age 3, making "worm soup." As 3-year-olds are wont to do, he got caught up in the realism and popped an earthworm into his mouth. As grandpop watched in amazement, he chewed and swallowed. So grandpop says, "Well, Cole, what's an earthworm taste like?" "Tastes like chicken!" says he.

Hmmmm . . . . really?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 10:46PM
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Before or after the eating one Geroge? Good choice of beverage!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 8:45AM
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gmatx zone 6

jazmynsmom - Go over to The Kitchen Table. There are some who just don't understand those of us who believe we have the right (LOL) to protect our hard work in the garden. Sheez.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 12:43PM
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Well they have a lot to say about your dish on the cooking thread,.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 1:00PM
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I was amused by the responses on KT, also; some of them seemed a little too goody-goody to me, but since I don't post there, often, thought I'd keep my mouth shut and not ruffle any feathers! :>)

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 1:44PM
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I ruffled a few feathers LOL I just couldn't help myself.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 1:53PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I cracked up when I read the KT thread! Robert and I have had some laughs over some of those comments.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 3:30PM
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ell_in_or(z8 OR)

Awesome!! Great post! If you get tired of eating them, send them all to Chi83's garden. They can eat her tomatoes instead.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 4:59PM
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gmatx zone 6

LOL @ ell_in_or...........

mwheel - have to agree with your interpretation of the tone of some of their posts. Wonder if they would throw a fit if they were here to watch me spray the cattle and the barn for those pesky flies....hummm Deep fried barn flies served on a bit of sweet feed with extra molasses on the side. LOL

George - get the Everclear out. I just have visions of those hornworms exploding when I take a bite. As Janis says - Lord love a duck!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 6:01PM
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redding , I've done chocolate covered ants and deep fried grashoppers in my day among many other experiments. But I'm not adventures any more either. But no matter what, tomato horn worms are not welcome in my garden, I just don't eat them.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 7:55PM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

Thanks guys. More than one friend sent me the link to the KT this weekend. At first, the sheer lunacy of some of the comments made me angry. I've been on the web long enough to know that if I have feelings that strong, I really need to sleep on it. It worked, because I woke up laughing.

I'm an organic gardener, and as such, if I'd chosen to use an organic pesticide, which I didn't, I might have used Bt. If the sanctimony of a few over there were really about the method of dispatch I'd chosen, that some people use Bt should instill outrage, (indeed they should busy themselves railing against Bt all over the internet), afterall, Bt causes an insect's digestive tract to rupture, and it digests itself and starves over the course of days. If I were an anthropomorphic idiot, (which I'm not---I'm apparently an insecticidal maniac, there's a difference), I'd imagine that this would be way worse way to die. Perhaps a handpicking and a stern talking to would have been preferable. Positive caterpillar reinforcement would be even better.

But the truth is, the problem wasn't that I killed five caterpillars, so much as I broke a cultural taboo and ate them. One poster, who was outraged (even though she neither read my post nor saw the pics), wondered if I'd had to throw my pan away afterwards. (Really Sylvia? Really?) Since death by oil lasts seconds (identical to death by smooshing or death by wild chicken, and significantly less than death by Bt, and I don't see people freaking out about these) the the explanation I can come up with is that people uncomfortable with the cultural taboo against entomophagy, projected their discomfort oil thing, and latched on for dear life. People from 80% of the world's nations eat insects. But people in developed nations generally consider it taboo, except when they eat red velvet cake, thus the repulsion, which I do get. I think it's healthy to examine taboos from time to time.

I am showing tremendous personal restraint right now.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Yes, the comment about throwing away the pan really cracked me up. As I read the thread I kept wondering how a quick dip in boiling oil was worse than a smash with a rock or shoe. Lots of people used to just use a jar of water for pests and let them drown. This seems rather humane to me. Well except for throwing them at the boys..lol. I didn't respond on that thread either.

Your restraint is noticed. Smiles. They probably don't like the parasitic wasps either. Hmmm... wonder if any of them would pick the wasp eggs off and then 'release' the worms to the 'wild'.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 11:20PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Don't you spend one second hosting feelings of anger at some of those silly comments. Such prejudices are usually based on ignorance. I don't mean that term in a nasty way, but to describe a true and honest lack of knowledge.

Your Bt comparison is a perfect one. And don't forget about the long, drawn-out death from parasitoids YUK!

Slapping them into a vat of hot olive oil would be a reprieve from what Mother Nature dishes out.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 11:26PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

The Okie gardeners loved your idea :) I linked to your thread for them!


    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 4:22PM
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I'm an organic gardener. No artificial fertilizer nor any commercial insect control. As far as tomato hornworms are concerned, I'm the insect control person. I have two tomato plants. I went out early this morning and heard the familiar " chomp" of tomato hornworms. I've been there and know the sound. I found that some of my ripe tomatoes had been "tasted".
The challenge is on.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 7:09PM
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Wonder how many others have linked.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 11:25AM
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zzackey(8b GA)

BARF! I just cut them in half with my nippers and be done with them!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 5:36PM
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LOL.. this could be the new dogs in elk... chuckling.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 5:44PM
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I like your style OP....nice way to get some protein in that meal. Looks appealing too (considering there is a fat bug in the food)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 8:54PM
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I know about the scorpions glowing under black light from my rock hound friends , but I did not know about the hornworms. I'll check it out in the AM.
BTW, Jazz, I had to look up the word "Solanaceae" that you mentioned. Interesting choice of a word for a garden. What else are you growing?

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden term.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Michelle, tempura would be best and then dip them in a hot honey mustard bacon dip. YUM!
Never thought about cooking the little devils I usually
pick them off and then GENTLY squeeze them to death. :0)

You go girl!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 8:14PM
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Safavieh Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: Safavieh Rugs Courtyard Red/Natural 6 ft. 7
Home Depot
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