Updated: Jul 14
This week...the hidden tomato hornworm, composting, and a divine chocolate cake. As the summer kicks off its time to start processing the yields of your garden. Both the veggies in your kitchen and the waste products in your compost pile.
This week's spotlight is on the Tomato Hornworm, another hungry caterpillar.
Hornworms are the most distinctive life stage of the five-spotted hawkmoth Manduca quinquemaculata (say that five times fast). They are quite common in southern New England, and we get them on our tomatoes nearly every year.
Because of their extraordinary camouflage, you might notice them first via large, round, dark green droppings and badly eaten leaves on your tomato plants. They've been known to munch other nightshade veggies like peppers and potatoes, but tomatoes are their favorite. Once you spot the worm, you'll wonder how you could've missed it! You might also wonder if it crawled out of the lab of a visiting alien spaceship.
Tomato hornworms can grow to 3-4 inches in length and eat voraciously. Left unchecked a few of them can ravage your plants quickly. But, if you are attentive to signs of their presence, all you need to do is remove and dispose of them. You can drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or just squish them (yes, their insides are as colorful as their outsides)
There is one time you should NOT remove a hornworm and that's when it looks like this:
Those little white grains of rice are actually the pupal stage of the small braconid wasp, Cotesia congregatus, which predates hornworms as a parasite. When they hatch, they will actually eat the hornworm and go on to lay their eggs on another worm to begin the cycle anew. These guys are on our side, so let them do their thing!
For a brief, clear, very helpful guide to tomato hornworms, click here.
Your Compost Pile
This time of year you're probably yanking mounds of weeds from your garden and surrounds, so let's turn that into next year's compost that's going to enrich the soil and bring us yummy veggies.
Some Basic Tips for Starting or Maintaining Your Compost Pile:
You can create a freestanding pile in a corner of your yard, or contain it simply and cheaply with either a wire fence made into a 6 ft wide circle or 3 upright pallets connected at the corners to create a U shaped enclosure, with one side left open for access.
When adding material, alternate green and brown layers in a one to two ratio by volume. Here is a list of what constitutes a green or a brown:
Green or nitrogen rich
fresh grass clipping - only use thin layers as they can get slimy
fresh weeds and flowers
coffee grounds/tea bags
fresh leaves - comfrey is good!
Brown or carbon rich
straw or salt marsh hay
sawdust or shavings
Don't add meat or bones, pet feces, or any processed food or you will attract unwanted marauders.
Water the compost pile every couple of weeks if it hasn't rained and after adding each layer. You want your pile moist, but not soggy. Also, create your compost pile in the shade to avoid it drying out and baking in the sun. The microorganisms you want to encourage like a rich, moist environment.
If you're adding weeds to your compost it's important to pull them early before they go to seed. You don't want to incorporate weed seeds into your compost or you will be spreading next year's weeds when you use your finished compost. You will need to get the entire compost pile up to 145 degrees F for 30 days to kill weed seeds. This is hard to attain so just keep the weed seeds out from the start and you can take a more laidback approach.
If your compost pile smells bad you probably have too much green and not enough brown. Try to deconstruct it a bit and if it's soupy and slimy, insert some browns into the pile.
If you don't turn your pile then you can expect it will take about 6 months of warm weather for your pile to mature after you stop adding to it. If you turn and mix the pile occasionally with a shovel or fork it will mature faster.
Summer harvest is upon us....
We are thrilled to be pulling veggies from the garden with more regularity, and hope you are able to do the same! The first round of beets and carrots are almost ready but remember they store best in the ground so you don't have to pull them all at once. Zucchini however will just keep getting bigger and bigger so go ahead and harvest and share them around. If you are growing leafy greens hopefully you've been harvesting as needed for salads and the like. Now that you've put so much time and energy into tending your garden, it can be overwhelming to know what to do with all that you've grown, especially if it comes all at once. Over the next few weeks we will bring you some of our favorite recipes for eating your garden's bounty.
Recipe Ideas: Beets
Need inspiration for what to make with all those beautiful beets you grew? You can't go wrong roasting them in the oven with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic or even a beet and potato hash with poached eggs. But our personal favorite is chocolate beet cake. Super moist and dense.
Here is the recipe we use:
Chocolate Beet Cake
1 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, almond meal, any gluten-free blend or any combination of the above flours have worked for us in the past).
1/2 cup cocoa powder.
1/2 cup sugar.
1 teaspoon baking soda.
1/2 teaspoon salt.
1/4 cup coconut oil or canola oil.
1 cup (or more) beets, boiled and pureed.
1/2 cup milk (cow's, oat, rice, soy all work great and you can even use water as a substitute).
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar.
Grease a 9" diameter cake pan and preheat your over to 350 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder) in a medium/large bowl.
Melt the coconut oil (if using) and add to the dry ingredients along with beets, milk, and apple cider vinegar. Stir by hand. Depending on how much beet puree you added, you may need to add a dash or two more of milk to get the right consistency for a cake batter.
Pour batter into the cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 mins.
Let the cake cool completely before running a knife around the edge of the pan and inverting onto your cake plate. Tada!
For special occasions, we double this for a proper cake and have found the recipe to be very forgiving. So, we encourage you to make it your own; vegan, gluten-free or use butter instead of oil. Yum. Enjoy!
Rodale Organic Field Days -This Coming Week (13th - 17th)
This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about small scale farming and gardening..... Register here if you haven't already!
NOFA Summer Conference - Next Week (July 20th - Aug 9th)
This excellent conference is now available from the comfort of your home. You can attend "live" while it's being held and interact or you can watch the recorded sessions. To register click here.