OK, perhaps I’m resorting to preschool name-calling here, but that’s how I roll. Both the cabbage looper and cabbage worm cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth in my garden every year, and this year it ends. Thanks to my friend the internet, I am armed with both knowledge and weaponry, and I intend to defeat these voracious beasts.
And just what do these little hell hounds look like? Well, they look remarkably like tiny caterpillars, and the cabbage moths in particular grow up into a lovely little whitish yellow butterfly looking creatures. Not so scary, right? Wrong. These little jerks can turn your favorite cole crop (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and the like) into a holey mess full of green caterpillar poop. The kale in particular can look leafy and beautiful one day, and then be reduced to a skeletal collection of stalk and leaf stems in no time at all. Since this is my own personal YEAR OF KALE, I must take a two pronged approach to defeating my enemy. First, I have to learn all about it to determine its weakness. Second, I must gather my armaments.
Life Cycle Of a Bad Bug (Or Two):
Both the looper and the worm pupae overwinter attached to plant debris, emerging in the spring ready to ass and take names. As I mentioned earlier, the cabbage worm doubles as an adorable 1-2” white butterfly, while the looper resembles a homely brown evening moth. Both lay eggs on the underside of plant leaves, which then hatch into little green caterpillars.
The looper and the worm are similar in appearance, although the looper moves in a more inch worm kind of way (hence the name). Last year's garden nemesis was the cross-striped cabbage worm shown below, caught in the act of eating and pooping and being a real (expletive of your choice).
Once the caterpillars emerge, they continue their Erik Carle inspired march of death until they pupate for a few weeks, and rise again to continue to be the ruin of my favorite green smoothie ingredient. Following their own personal "can't stop, won't stop" mantra, they can produce three to five generations per year.
Most organic remedies hinge on the use of floating row covers. These should be placed immediately after planting to prevent the moths from laying eggs. This is a good idea, and I might start out the spring with some in place, but I really don't want my garden to look like a bunch of napping KKK members all summer long. I did, however, buy a big old pile of these this year just in case. Budget conscious gardeners might appreciate using plain ole tulle from the craft store would work just the same at a cheaper price.
The next level of defense is about watching for egg and caterpillar placement and picking them off, which is also good, but takes more effort than I'm usually willing to expend. Once the caterpillars strike, the plants can be treated with a sprays containing BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) or spinosad. The internet also yields a variety of remedies in the realm of homemade garlic and pepper sprays, none of which I can vouch for, but I would certainly be willing to try.
Interplanting crops with other plants that either repel the bad bugs, attract good bugs, or simply grow well together, is known as companion planting. In the case of these caterpillars, heavily scented crops like onions, dill, sage, and rosemary are said to repel the moths. Companion planting is often a matter of "try it and see for yourself" rather than a scientifically researched fact, but if you're growing a variety of crops anyway, it's certainly easy enough to plant some next to each other for a purpose. I bought some onion sets, and have interplanted them with the kale in one of my rows, and plan on giving the broccoli the same treatment.
So that's my bug plan for today. Stay tuned for the results, and watch for more articles featuring me locked in an epic battle for truth and justice with a variety of extremely tiny creatures. Huzzah!
I am Laura; lover of plants, fan of words, drinker of wine, practitioner of yoga, planner of schemes, and conductor of the family crazy train, Check here for gardening fun, harvest recipes, yoga philosophy, and whatever else I love to write about.