Monthly Archives: August 2016

Excited about Hornworms?

Manduca sexta is a moth whose larvae (caterpillar) is known as the Tomato Hornworm. This is one of the more destructive and dreaded pests for those who grow tomatoes, as the caterpillars can defoliate a plant seemingly overnight.

So why would I be excited to see this guy on our tomatoes this morning?

This pest has parasites!

This pest has parasites!

Take a closer look at the back of the caterpillar.

This Tomato Hornworm has been parasitized!

Just think of the movie Aliens as I explain the life cycle of the Braconid Wasps, a Tomato Hornworm parasite.

Braconid Wasps are a family of parasitic wasps, and Cotesia congregata is one species in this family that prefers Tomato Hornworms. It has a sharp ovipositor… a long, tube-like, egg-laying appendage. The adult wasp uses its ovipositor to pierce the skin of a caterpillar and deposits eggs inside the caterpillar’s body. The eggs hatch and the wasp larvae slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside. Initially, the caterpillar will act as if nothing is wrong, but as the parasitic larvae grow, and continue to eat, the caterpillar becomes progressively less active. The wasp larvae save the vital organs for last, so the infected caterpillar will stay alive for as long as possible. Eventually the wasp larvae break through the caterpillar’s skin and spin a cocoon. The larvae pupate into adult wasps, and the cycle repeats itself.

I was disappointed to see the Tomato Hornworm on our tomatoes, but then I saw the cocoons adorning the caterpillar like some macabre decoration. My disappointment quickly shifted into excitement. I went from almost grabbing the Hornworm from the plant and feeding it to the chickens, to gladly leaving the Hornworm right where I found it on the tomato plant.

The parasitized Hornworm in my garden is the exact reason we do not spray insecticides on our farm. We may have to put up with a little loss for a short time, but then Nature turns the tables on the pests. This poor Tomato Hornworm is now a barely living but very viable nursery for some highly beneficial parasitic wasps. I left things alone, and in a few days I’ll have a couple dozen more allies patrolling my garden for pest caterpillars.

And I don’t mind letting others do the dirty work for me.


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Salatin Style Chicken Tractor Hand Truck or Dolly

Hand Truck or Dolly… what you call this device really depends on where you come from. For us, this simple machine has been a huge time saver. We use this hand truck to move our chicken tractors each day. We raise a few hundred broiler (meat) chickens each year on our farm, and I gave a small overview of that endeavor in a previous article. Previously, we used a standard household or moving type hand truck; this did do the job, but it was harder and took two people to move the chicken tractor (one person to hold the hand truck and one to pull the tractor from the other side).


The hand truck in action. The wheels are under the chicken tractor as we pull from the other side of the tractor.

With our new hand truck, based on the Salatin design, the chore of moving the chicken tractors now only takes one person. It is also easier to move the tractors; it is smoother and more steady. This hand truck is not sold anywhere. We found a local welder/fabricator who was able to create this with the photos and drawings we gave him.

Here are some photos of the hand truck:


Our Salatin-style chicken tractor hand truck. Just to be clear, it is laying on it’s back right now. It’s important the handle bends forward (up in the image) so that when it slides, the handle doesn’t catch on anything.



Here is a photo of the outside of the wheel. It’s important that the foot has an extension so that it can slip under the edge of the chicken tractor.



Here is a photo of the inside of the wheel. It’s important that the axle sits away of the angled piece . The foot scoops under the chicken tractor, then as we pull the hand truck back and down, the wall of the chicken tractor slides down and rests behind the axle. Then the hand truck will not flip back up when we pull the chicken tractor.



Note that we cut down the stop on the legs of the hand truck. These stops are important to prevent the tractor from sliding back, especially when the tractors are on hills. But in our original version, the stops stuck out too far and caught on the wire walls of the chicken tractor.


Subscribe to and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!