How to Control Tomato Worms and Potato Bugs Organically

Potato bugs and tomato worms (aka tobacco worms) can be the bane of any organic gardener’s existence. Tomato worms can dessicate your entire tomato or potato crop in one night! Potato bugs make quick work of your potato plants in a very short time as well.

tomato worms potato bugs
Potato bugs chowing down on my red potato plants
tomato worm
A half eaten green tomato – tomato worms don’t just eat your plants – they eat the tomatoes too!

 

I’ve successfully eradicated our garden of these two pesky pests, and here’s how:

1. Peppermint essential oil (where to buy affiliate link) and dish soap – These pests hate the smell of peppermint and they hate the taste of soap. I make a simple spray using about 10 drops of peppermint essential oil, a squirt of blue Dawn in an empty spray bottle like this one (affiliate link),) filling it up the rest of the way with water. This won’t kill the bugs/worms and the tomato worms that are already on the plants don’t seem to be deterred, but it does seem to stop new ones from setting up their supper table. It also won’t harm your plants and won’t pass on any nasty pesticide residue to you and your family.

2. Hand-picking – This requires due diligence, but is the most effective method that I’ve found. I walk through the garden every tomato worm potato bugday with an old coffee can filled with a little water. I examine each plant and pick off every single potato bug and tomato worm. (I won’t lie – it’s really gross, tomato worms are huge and they give me the heebie jeebies! Use a stick and knock them off into the bowl or wear gloves.) They go into the coffee can and are drowned. They then get emptied into the feed bin in the chicken coop. My chickens love them and my plants are saved from their annilation. Make sure you thoroughly examine your plants – if you miss one tomato worm it can eat your entire plant (including your un-ripe tomatoes) overnight.

3. Parasitic Wasps - These little buggers are a tomato worm’s worst nightmare. You’ll recognize them if you see them when they’re latched on, it looks like the tomato worm has pieces of rice sticking out of it all over. If your tomato worms are being attacked, let the little lifesavers do their work! Remove the tomato worm from your plant, but don’t kill it. And, rest easy, because the wasps will be saving your crop!

Important tip: If you find one tomato worm, there are most likely more. Don’t delay treatment – these hungry little buggers can eat up your whole crop overnight! In one day, going through my plants, I got rid of all of the tomato worms, I sprayed with my peppermint oil spray and I haven’t found anymore – even after heavy rains. 

 

This is what’s worked for us, so far, what’s working for you? Do you have another organic method to control these pesky pests in your garden? Please share in the comments! 

 

This post also shared at Green Thumb Thursday , Mountain Woman Rendezvous #53  Simple Life Sunday and From the Farm Blog Hop

Homemade Carnitas Recipe

Carnitas is Spanish for “Little Meats.” Braised for 2 hours until tender, then fried in it is own rendered fat. So Succulent. So Flavorful. So easy to make! I’m sharing this recipe today because it is so simple, everyone should make this at home! I don’t know any other recipe that literally takes as little work and comes out with so much flavor. The list of ingredients is ridiculously short: pork, water, salt, garlic. That’s it. 

First, grab a 3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast with a good amount of fat. Cut it up into chunks about 2″ x 1″ or so. homemade pork carnitasMake sure you leave all of the fat on. The fat will render down while the pork is braising and we will brown these little chunks of pork heaven in that rendered lard at the end. Now, crush 4 or 5 garlic cloves to peel. Add your pork, garlic, and salt to a large heavy-bottomed pot, and just barely cover with cold water. Set it on the stove at about med-high and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to med-low and let simmer for about 2 hours. DON’T STIR. Really. Just let it simmer. 

homemade pork carnitas

After two hours, turn the heat back up to med-high and bring to a boil. At this point you’ll want to boil all of the water off so you’re just left with the rendered fat in the bottom. Carefully turn the pieces of pork so they brown on all sides. Really carefully, or they will fall apart on you. They will still taste wonderful, will just be a bit smaller. This is the part that  I always have trouble with. I can’t seem to turn the pork without shredding a bit of it. And without sneaking a few bites.

 

While the pork is browning, warm up some corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet (My Mama would be pressing her own made from scratch corn tortillas in a tortilla press and cooking them at this point, but I’m not near as adventurous as My Mama. Or maybe I’m just not as energetic. Or, probably, I don’t want to clean up after myself because I’m sure I would make an extra-large mess while making extra-good from scratch corn tortillas.)

I love carnitas served with slices of avocado and a little lime squeezed over the top. Serve with some Southern “Fried” Cabbage and Bacon Fried Potatoes for an awesome meal, full of flavor, without a lot of work.

Lessons Learned in the Garden as a Kid

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Don’t let them catch you fighting with your sister – you’ll get extra rows of tomatoes to weed…

I grew up in the garden. Most of my summertime memories as a child are in the garden or in the kitchen, eating what we grew. Punishment for fighting with my sister was extra weeding in the hot sticky air of July in Kentucky. While I may not have enjoyed it then, something was happening during all of that time: I was learning how to feed my family. When I started planting my own garden as an adult, I was surprised to find a bank of stored knowledge that just seemed to come to me as instinct. What a gift to be given! The knowledge and ability to grow enough food to feed my family, how to cook it and how to store it for the winter.

My oldest....staking tomatoes
My oldest….staking tomatoes

 

 

My children view gardening much like I did as a child: a chore. I would have rather been indoors in front of a fan watching tv, and they would too. Sometimes I think it would be a lot easier for me to get my chores done if I didn’t have to fight with them to get them outside, but I keep in the back of my mind how grateful I am that I had to take part in these things while I was growing up, and hopefully, they will one day as well.

 

 

The things I learned weren’t trivial, but incredibly useful when I put out my first garden: 

  1. Two sticks with a string tied between them the length of your row used as a row marker helps to keep your rows straight.
  2. Cut your sticks you use for your string marker the length of space you want between your rows. You can pull it up, lay it on its side and use to measure the space between rows.
  3. Dig a trench to plant in alongside the string and drop in the seeds. Use your hoe while walking down the row to cover the seeds you planted. Much faster than digging a hole for each seed, dropping it in, and covering it. Works even better with more people: one to dig the trench, one to walk behind and drop in the seeds, another to go behind and cover them.
  4. Plant a couple early tomato plants before your last frost date. Just a couple are easy to cover when frost is coming and the thrill of the first red tomato will come much sooner.

    One of our early tomato plants this year
    One of our early tomato plants this year
  5. Don’t waste your time hilling the potatoes when you are planting them. You will have to hill them again once they start to bloom.
  6. Plant radishes in-between your carrots, they will help to keep the soil loose so the carrots can grow (especially in the south where you are growing in red clay.)
  7. Use the leaves of the cauliflower plants to cover the growing cauliflower. Pin them with clothespins or tie with grass string – otherwise your cauliflower will burn in the sun and turn a not-so-appealing yellowish brown. Still tastes great, but doesn’t look pretty.
  8. Stagger your corn plantings so you don’t have to pick and put up all in one weekend.
  9. Break up the soil around your onions, almost down to the roots. This will allow the onions to get bigger.
  10. You don’t have to be rich to eat like you are!

Just a few little tidbits I learned along the way – there is lots more that I have learned the hard way in the past few years, but these are passed along from my childhood to my garden, my childrens’ gardens years from now….and to yours. <3

A great book on this subject:

Other gardening posts you might enjoy: Updates from the Farm, Greenbeans Like My Mama Makes ‘Em, Identifying and Correcting Blossom End Rot on Your Tomatoes, How to Control Tomato Worms and Potato Bugs Organically, Fried Green Tomatoes

This post also shared with Green Thumb ThursdayThe Homeacre Homesteading Blog Hop 6/5, and Homestead Barn Hop #162

Southern Fried Cabbage

I have a love-hate relationship with cabbage. I love to eat it. I hate how it makes my house smell when I cook it. Still, it’s a great cold-weather crop, it lasts for such a long time in a root cellar, and, if you’re gonna raise your own food to eat, you’ll need some greens in the wintertime, so cabbage is a good choice. My favorite meal companions for fried cabbage are beans and cornbread or Carnitas with Bacon Fried Potatoes. And, trust me. Tasting fried cabbage makes the smell of it cooking all worth it.

As with most of what is cooked in my kitchen, the secret to this recipe is the bacon grease. 

First, dice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon and start them frying in a medium pot.

fried cabbage

Then, cut up about 1/2 head of cabbage into about 2 inch squares.

After your bacon has crisped up, throw in your cabbage and stir it around until it gets a little crispy around the edges. Throw in a little salt and pepper, a couple dashes of Frank’s hot sauce, and a bit of water.

fried cabbage 3

 

Bring that to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low or med-low, to simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cabbage is transluscent and tender.

fried cabbage 4

Serve alongside some bacon fried potatoes with some beans and cornbread for a hearty wintertime supper!