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I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what the average entomologist is thinking from one minute to the next, and I doubt if entomologists spend much time wondering about my thoughts. But recently I did see something in the paper that got me to thinking.
Only a state entomologist could somehow find a link between bitter cold winter mornings and deep red, fresh, tasty, sun-ripened summer tomatoes. I suppose I could make the same link if I was willing to spend the time thinking about it, but I don’t have the time.
To be honest I have no idea how many entomologists we have among us in Maine at this time in our development or how many entomologists we really need, for that matter, but this article I read the other day said that one of our state’s entomologists is concerned that the above average temperatures we experienced earlier this winter could lead to an upsurge in the tomato bug population. Even the recent spate of bone-chilling temperatures may not be enough to help this summer’s tomato crop from these little buggers that can eat your average tomato plant right down to the ground and then move on for more.
These are the kinds of things that entomologist Charlene Donahue of the Maine Forest Service thinks about at the department’s Insect and Disease Lab in Augusta. I’m sure glad someone is thinking about protecting next summer’s tomato crop because I’m quite fond of tomatoes but I don’t give the subject much thought, to tell you the truth.
Not only are future BLTs and spaghetti dinners at risk because of mild early winter weather, but tomato bugs have been known to wolf down eggplants, pepper and potato plants as well, which means that our fine Italian restaurants could be at risk. The consequences could be staggering.
Donahue says it’s best to have cold temperatures followed by a January thaw so these bugs in their larval stage will start to stir and think spring has arrived. Then they need to be hit with a real bitter cold deep freeze to knock as many of the little critters off as possible. I know it sounds rough, but it’s the protection of our tomatoes we’re talking about here.
Before I learned all this I was selfishly thinking only of myself and all the money I was saving this winter on heating oil. Now I realize that the homegrown tomatoes that are so much a part of my summer experience could be eaten out of existence by critters that our mild weather is coddling.
So, as it turns bitter cold outside and you turn up your thermostat, pile more quilts on the bed and throw a few more logs in the auxiliary woodstove to try and stay warm, start thinking like and entomologist.
Remember that the bitter cold is bad for laval insects and what’s bad for larval insects is good for fresh tomatoes.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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