, Salem, MA


October 12, 2012

Time to dig up those sweet potatoes


If you have large amounts of diseased contaminated soil, I would compost it in a separate area, or spread it on the ground in a thin area and allow it to freeze this winter. Don’t use it for any planting for a few years — it takes that long to kill the little buggers.

Q: I found my first hornworm. I only found one, on a “done” plant, no less, and it had what looked like white egg cases or something all over it. I cut the branch off, put it into a bucket and pitched it into the drink, all the while wearing a horrible grimace on my face! Does this mean I can now expect them next and/or every year? Where do they come from and what do they turn into, assuming they pupate?

A: Aren’t you lucky! No — I’m serious! You found a hornworm that has had eggs laid on its body. The eggs, probably that of a particular wasp, will hatch and burrow into the hornworm’s body and will eat and kill the hornworm. Had you known, you could have left the hornworm to die on its own.

Hornworms are the pupa of the sphinx moth, sometimes called a hummingbird moth, a large brown and black moth that you see in your garden all summer. Yes, you might have more next year, and the best way to remove the large insect is by hand-picking. If hand-picking isn’t your thing, any good insect spray with caterpillar listed on the kill label will do, but be persistent.

This week’s dirt

The planning season has begun and will last at least until late April or early May. It’s the gardener’s season to start evaluating what worked and what didn’t. In the meantime, keep weeding — weeding isn’t over until the ground freezes. All those little weed seeds are busy getting into their survival mode — and preparing for next spring in your garden. Ever wonder why there are so many weeds that pop up in April before you even get finished cleaning out? It’s because they get there first. They slept there all winter and begin infiltrating your garden and using your water and fertilizers intended for next summer’s crops. The more of those seed carriers and root spreading weeds you get rid of now, the more you will save yourself from scores and scores of weeds next spring.


North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at

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