Here in Arkansas, it seems that most of the summer is spent either trying to procure homegrown tomatoes, or trying to give them away.
Is this a good year for tomatoes, or are they shamefully horrible? This will be a major topic of conversation through Labor Day. Gardeners eulogize the dream crops of the past even as they make apologies for this year’s sorry showing. I’ve had a neighbor arrive with a shirttail full of lumpy heirlooms he claimed were too mealy to be any good, but that he suggested might be passable stewed or cooked into a sauce. Of course, they were perfect. My dentist sends me home from my summer appointment with a free toothbrush and a paper sack of homegrown Cherokee purples.
All this to say, tomatoes are a pretty big deal around here. Is this vegetable really worthy of such labor and attention? I mean, of course. Slice a fresh tomato, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put it on bread along with bacon and mayo. It’s worth your time.
This is the first year in a long while that we’ve tried to grow tomatoes at our house, and tomato hornworms seem intent on making it difficult. When I found the first one, a plump, bright green tube with a stinger-like protrusion on the end, I took to Facebook for advice. It was bad news. Everyone agreed the hornworms had to die, but the method of eradication was in dispute. One friend squashes them and leaves the dead worms on the driveway for the robins to feast on. My cousin recommended leaving them alone if they were covered in small white bits, as those would be the larvae of parasitic wasps that would eventually hatch and eat any hornworms they could find, solving the problem. Snipping the worms in half with scissors was the most popular suggestion and the one my sons were most eager to implement.
The internet offered a few other options. Did you know people actually buy tomato hornworms as food for their pet reptiles? Diatomaceous earth sprinkled on the soil around the plants could work, according to some accounts, but didn’t work at all for me. Some gardeners go straight for the chemical insecticides.
Hornworms had little chance against my 7-year-old and his scissors, and I can report that the infestation is over with only minimal damage. Pea-sized green tomatoes are popping out, and excitement builds. Granted, it’s a lot of work for a sandwich. The tomatoes will be horrible or dreamy, their merits or lack thereof discussed at length. Regardless, unlike most meals we’ll scarf down this summer, the tomatoes are something we will remember.