Tag Archives: garden pests

Chickens Love Tomato Hornworms

When chickens are mentioned, people think about eggs. There’s much more to chickens. Chickens love tomato hornworms and other delicacies people would rather weren’t around.

Tomato hornworms are the caterpillars of a large sphinx moth. These show up around dark to visit night blooming flowers like Datura and mullein. They lay their eggs on tomato leaves.

tomato hornworm
This is actually a tobacco hornworm as it has that little red tail. They avidly consume tomato and pepper plants. They work quietly under cover of foliage until the foliage is gone and they have no place to hide. That doesn’t matter much at the end of September with killing frost a week away. It does in August when big crops of tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The hornworms eat tomatoes too.

By the time I usually notice tomato hornworms, they are four to six inch monsters. Only experienced chickens love tomato hornworms this large.

Younger chickens need tempting with the two inch and under worms. Once they get a taste for these treats, they will tackle bigger ones.

Size does matter to chickens. Mine love mice. Any mouse that dares to appear in the hen house or yard becomes dinner.

Speckled Sussex chickens love tomato hornworms
Speckled Sussex hens are a bit small and lay a medium tan egg, but there is nothing small about their hustle. Tomato hornworms are grabbed and beaten on the ground until tenderized before being consumed. Another favorite is large horseflies.

The other day one of my standard cochins caught a mole. The flock knew it was good to eat. It was too big for them to tear apart.

Another delicacy for chickens is a Japanese beetle. They will leap up to snag the beetles off leaves of the wild grape vine on their fence. Wild grapes are a catch crop for the beetles. The chickens are the disposal end.

At times it’s tempting to let the chickens find the hornworms themselves. That notion stops as soon as a spoiled tomato is dropped into the chicken yard.

Chickens love tomato hornworms, true. They love tomatoes even more.

These birds also love earthworms, grubs and other soil denizens. In the garden mulch and dirt fly as they scratch their way along looking for edibles.

My garden fence doesn’t deter woodchucks, raccoons or opossums. It does keep the chickens out. That leaves me searching for the tomato hornworms.

Since I am the one who delivers hornworms, grubs and spoiled tomatoes, the chickens keep an eye on me. Yes, chickens love tomato hornworms, but they love food offerings of many kinds. They cluster in my vicinity waiting.

Chickens are great first homesteading livestock as Hazel finds out in “Mistaken Promises“.

Annual Invasions

My garden was looking so good. Then the annual invasions began.

One is mostly welcome. Gray tree frogs call from the rain barrels every warm evening.

Most sit hidden above the barrels. A few brave ones sit on the edges of the barrels. Now and then one is brave enough to continue calling when I come near enough to see its throat turned into a grape sized balloon.

annual invasions of gray tree frogs
Every warm evening calls of gray tree frogs resound through my garden. Judging by the numbers of egg masses in the rain barrels in the morning, they are very busy. The frequent rains wash many of the eggs and newly hatched tadpoles out of the barrels.

In the morning great masses of eggs float in the rain barrels. In a day or two the masses sink until the eggs hatch. Then tadpoles line the barrels.

I value the tree frogs. They catch lots of flying insects, especially mosquitoes zeroing in on the rain barrels. Even during dry spells one barrel is not used to water the garden so some tadpoles can grow up.

Another of the annual invasions is never ending. Weeds love wet weather. They can grow with abandon and the gardener can do little but wait for dryer times to tackle them.

Hen with chick in my garden
Chickens are not allowed in my garden. This hen and chick needed someplace reasonably safe so I bent the rules. She shreds the mulch digging for earthworms and other delicacies for her chick. She also digs up lots of weeds.

This year I do have help of sorts. One cochin hen managed to hatch a single chick.

Since the chick is too small to run loose with the chickens, the pair have occupied the garden during the day. I set up a temporary chicken wire fence, add food and water and hen with chick. She is rototilling the garden section by section.

At least I can try to control where the hen and chick are. They stay safely away from where I’ve planted. My third of the annual invasions, a most unwelcome one, is the raccoons.

These creatures climb over the fence and dig up the garden looking for worms and grubs. Any plant in the way is tossed aside. A third of my tomato plants are destroyed. Three raccoons are history. Electric fence is the next project.

annual invasions of woodchucks
Woodchucks or groundhogs or whistling pigs, these vegetarians do well out in the pastures. In the garden or orchard they are disasters. Since they climb as well as dig, fences don’t slow them down much.

The fence will hopefully prevent another of the annual invasions: woodchucks. These vegetarians can eat a garden to the ground in a single morning. They have been seen next to the garden.

And the garden wars continue. The snow peas, Chinese cabbage, spinach and other greens are worth the fight.

Read more about raising baby chicks here.

Woodchuck Attack

A few years ago a family of woodchucks moved in under the tractor shed. They lay waste to my garden. Another woodchuck attack shouldn’t be a surprise.

Out in the woods or in the abandoned pastures, woodchucks are interesting to see. Baby ones are rather cute. Most generally they are spotted as a flow of dark fur streaking across the road and into the brush.

woodchuck sitting up
“Who’s there? I know someone’s there. Where are you?” this woodchuck seems to say as he looks for me. This woodchuck lies out in the ravine near a pawpaw orchard which he ignores.

Once I got a chance to watch one a few minutes before being spotted. They flow along busily sorting through the grass. This is rare as they are very alert creatures.

Alarmed woodchucks live up to their other name of whistle chucks. Their whistle is high, loud and sudden. The first time I heard it I jerked upright looking all around wondering what was going on.

Nothing was going on. The woodchucks had vanished. I never saw them.

My garden is heavily mulched. This encourages worms, roots, moisture. Moles love it which is annoying.

woodchuck attack damage
Tomato plants are beside the shade house. These poor plants have been dug up so many times. I replant them and water them. They are now big with flowers on them. Unless the woodchuck digs them up again.

This year I kept finding my mulch churned up. My tomato plants were dug up. My pepper plants were snapped off.

Woodchucks are vegetarians. They eat plants. I found out before they love Brussels’s sprouts and will eat them to the ground. They love runner beans, but not yard long beans.

I looked at the damage and thought skunk. Skunks aren’t so messy and can’t climb into the garden and don’t dig holes under the fence. Raccoons were a possibility.

broken plant typical of a woodchuck attack
Yes, a woodchuck is a vegetarian. No, a woodchuck does not seem to like squash or pepper or tomato plants to eat. Instead the animal digs them up, breaks them off and makes a big mess.

It was a woodchuck attack. Friends have seen the same damage from chucks in their gardens.

And woodchuck explains why the chicory is all bent over. This one likes chicory. And grubs.

I’ve seen it, or rather the dark flow disappearing out to the manure pile. The den under the tractor shed was freshly remodeled. I found the hole under the fence.

The next challenge is catching the woodchuck in the livetrap. My garden can’t handle a full scale woodchuck attack. It has to go.