Meanwhile, our courtship of the beneficial insects has shown more results. On almost every tomato plant, late-season hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) have appeared - but with a new look! Each one is decorated along its back with the egss of the tiny braconid wasps called Cotesia. This terrible (from the caterpillar's standpoint and only occasionally the gardener's) parasite lays its eggs along the caterpillar's back. The larva hatch, burrowing into the hornworm's body. Paralyzed, the caterpillar is consumed alive as the wasp larvae eat it from the inside out. As they burrow out, the larvae spin cocoons and mature into tiny wasps, beginning the cycle again. Knowing what the caterpillar is enduring, it is very difficult for me not to kill the hornworm outright and end what I envision as an agonizing death but doing so will also kill the beneficial wasps we've tried to attract to protect our tomato plantings! Another of the many dilemmas of gardening... when the ally is more frightening than the enemy.
The peppers are really in their stride now. Of all our backyard garden vegetables, the peppers love the heat the most. Dark green and loaded with brilliant red, yellow and green peppers, they are a delight to see. In past years, I've had terrible slug damage on peppers during late summer wet weather spells. This year I mulched each raised bed with several inches of a shredded cypress mulch - cheap (less than $3 per bag), prickly as all get out, and a nice weed suppressant. Bonus! It discouraged the tender snails and slugs right out of those beds! I'm bedding everything with cypress mulch henceforth.