My wife, Colleen, was recently watering our small flower garden and few vegetable plants. She noticed that our only tomato plant was looking pretty sickly with a condition that had come on very suddenly.

We had friends visiting when she mentioned that it looked like our chances of fresh tomatoes may well be limited to the local farm market. I went with her to take a look at the ailing plant and I knew immediately that disease wasn’t the problem. That plant had a worm problem “¦ actually, 13 worm problems.

The culprits were tomato hornworms — big, fat, green and juicy (if you happen to step on one) caterpillars. As I plucked one from a tomato branch, I held it out in Colleen’s direction for a helping hand. As that slowly undulating 5-inch caterpillar headed in her direction, she appeared to be pushed away by an invisible hand, successfully demonstrating the Lorentz force of repelling magnetic theory (she is a scientist and was possibly trying to impress me).

It’s probably a good thing we didn’t know each other when we were kids “¦ she might still be running. These days, I’m a lot more mature. To her credit, she did grab a big burdock leaf to shield her hand as she held them “¦ for a while.

The hornworms can be found in most of the U.S. and can wreck your tomato crop in record time. They’ll also eat your eggplants, peppers and potatoes, which are all members of the nightshade variety of plants. They munch nonstop and, despite their large size, are well camouflaged among the foliage (until there is no foliage).

The question is, where do these things come from? The adult form of the tomato hornworm is a relatively large moth, commonly known as a hawk moth or sphinx moth. The adult moth feeds on the nectar of various flowers and is most active from dusk until dawn.

In late spring, the moths lay eggs on the undersides of foliage, which will hatch within a week.

The hatchling larvae will feed from 4 to 6 weeks before creating a cocoon for overwintering in the soil. Moths will emerge in the spring, and the cycle repeats. More than one generation a year is possible in warmer climates.

Control is pretty straightforward. I prefer handpicking since, in our case, the affected number of plants is small and I prefer to limit the use of insecticides. The caterpillars aren’t dangerous and cannot sting. If you’re a little squeamish about squishing these fat guys, just drop them into some soapy water. If you happen to have chickens, you can make friends for life.

In larger gardens, insecticides may be required. One popular organic pesticide is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). It’s a bacterium that acts as a stomach poison, but doesn’t harm plants or animals. Our Cooperative Extension Agency may offer other recommendations. Their phone number is 419-422-3851.

Prevention is truly the best medicine. Tilling the garden soil at both the beginning and end of the season to destroy overwintering larvae can offer up to a 90 percent effectiveness. Wasps can also be beneficial predators, using the hornworm as host for their young. If you spot a hornworm with white, rice-looking nodules sticking out of its body, let it live. These are parasitic wasp larvae and that hornworm is doomed to produce more worm-killing wasps.

Another old gardener’s trick is to interplant dill, basil and marigolds as excellent companion plants that keep many pests away.

Oh “¦ Colleen also mentioned that it’s probably good we didn’t know each other when we were kids. Something about just getting out of prison. That girl “¦ what a kidder.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” — Marie Curie

Along the way:

Shawnee State Park Golf Course in Scioto County is one of six state-owned courses in the park system. The others are located at Deer Creek, Punderson, Maumee, Hueston Woods and Salt Fork state parks.

The Shawnee course is a 72-par, 18-hole championship challenge that sits on a bluff above the Ohio River in a hilly region known as the “Little Smokies.” Hole No. 5 overlooks the river valley and has been voted the “most scenic” in the tri-state area. The park and the course are a huge tourist draw to the region — one that local businesses have relied upon to add to their customer base.

In mid-July, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) surprised this southern Ohio community with the news that it intended to sell the golf course. According to the Scioto County commissioners, they received no warning of the possibility of an impending sale.

Mike Crabtree, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said that contrary to any warning, assurances had been given that no sale was planned.

“They (ODNR) were in here recently and told us that they didn’t have any plans to sell that,” Crabtree said. “They were adamant about that. There was no plans to sell it, they were going to go in and do some improvements and whatnot. Either they had some misinformation, or they were giving us misinformation.”

“ODNR told us to our faces that they were not selling the golf course, and that was on Feb. 21,” added County Commissioner Bryan Davis. During that meeting, Davis said that ODNR officials told them “Point blank, ‘We are not going to sell it'”¦ As a matter of fact, we were told they were investing in it.”

According to Ivy Potter, a reporter for the Portsmouth Daily Times newspaper, it appears that ODNR did not notify state Sen. Joe Uecker, state Rep. Terry Johnson, the county commissioners or the golf course staff of their plans to sell the course.

While the sale may be necessary to trim the strapped Ohio State Parks budget or the course is being peddled to relieve the state of some unwanted property, it’s still unclear what the long-term impact will be on this rural community. A lot of folks who represent the area don’t understand the apparent secrecy nor the lack of candor of ODNR representatives. Hopefully, these fences can one day be mended.

So, if your dream has been to own a 6,407-yard championship golf course featuring 46 sand traps, four ponds, a driving range and views of the Ohio River, here’s your chance. Sealed bids will be received by the ODNR Office of Real Estate and Land Management until Aug. 15.

For information or a bidding package, contact 614-265-6525 or 614-265-7061. The winning bidder will be required to operate the property as a golf course for three years after the purchase.

There’s no information whether other Ohio State Parks golf courses will be impacted by ODNR’s decisions.

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles

Step outside:

• Today: Cowboy action shoot, Ghost Town, 10630 Hancock County 40, Findlay. Registration for this fast-growing, Old West shooting game opens at 8:30 a.m., with shooting expected to start at approximately 10 a.m., running until 2 p.m. If your dreams include Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp or Belle Starr, you owe it to yourself to have a look.

• Tomorrow: Air gun field target shoot, Wyandot County Coon Hunters, 12759 Township Highway 133, Nevada 44848.

• Aug. 4 and 5: Annual blackpowder competition, patched round-ball only. Aug. 4 runs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Aug. 5 runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Black Swamp Muzzleloaders, Portage Township 19, quarter-mile west of Hancock County 139. Contact Bill Bare at 419-306-2957 or Kevin Silveus at 567-525-1921.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.

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