I don’t think very highly of the nitwit who accidentally introduced the Small White cabbage moth (Pieris rapae) to North America. No, indeed, I don’t. He is probably a cousin to the nut who introduced the starling to this continent, perhaps even a friend of the fool who introduced the House Sparrow–was it intentional? Was it an accident? Most agree that it wasn’t a great idea, in hindsight. None of these creatures are native to this continent, and they’ve all created unwelcome havoc to the native species.
This dainty, fluttery little moth is wreaking havoc in my cabbage plants even as we speak, yes, Gentle Reader. As soon as my back is turned, hundreds of these little moths (hey, right in front of me, even!) flutter amiably about my garden, laying eggs on all my cole crops, without so much as a “how-do-you-do-ma’am, thanks-for-the-breakfast.” Within days, the eggs (drat them) will hatch, and out will pop voracious little caterpillers, who will immediately and without invitation begin to eat holes in my lovely cabbages, my gorgeous kale leaves, and all the other brassicas in my garden.
I have one word for them: Grrr.
I was already taking the onslaught of these pests a bit personally, as I had noticed a larger number than I’d ever seen before in my garden. But then, when two of my good gardening friends, oh, nay, actually three, mentioned to me within 12 hours’ time how many Small White cabbage moths there were chewing up their cole crops this year, I decided that Something Must Be Done.
There are times, of course, when garden pests must simply be plucked and thrown to the chickens (in the case of the tomato horn worm, for example) and then other times when a pest can simply be ignored, as it doesn’t do enough damage to justify attention, and time is spent more productively in picking tomatoes, say, or green beans.
This is not one of those times. Small White cabbage moths will make lace of your lovely kale leaves, or webs of your beautiful developing cabbages, in a very short time, indeed. So. Let’s get started.
The first thing, I believe, in preparing to battle any foe, is to find out (quickly, before the cabbages are lost!) what makes that enemy tick.
So here are a few points to consider, as you contemplate how you will Save the Year’s Sauerkraut Supply:
- Unlike many other garden pests (my personal enemy the Squash Borer Wasp comes to mind) which have a limited cycle in the garden year, in North America this moth is continuously-brooded, being one of the first butterflies to emerge from the chrysalis in spring, and then actually flying until hard freeze in the fall. That’s patently unfair to gardeners who try to raise lovely brassicas without sprinkling or spraying with pesticides, like moi.
- The caterpillars that hatch are green and well camouflaged, and live on the undersides of the leaves, thus making them less visible to predators. I, for one, do not appreciate a sneaky worm.
- This fluttery little bit of white is also one of the most cold-hardy of the non-hibernating butterflies, occasionally seen emerging during mid-winter mild spells in cities as far north as Washington, D.C., which I consider very poor taste indeed. Like any unwelcome company, there comes a time for the Small White cabbage moth to just leave, already. Apparently nobody has ever taken the time to clue the moth in to this obvious fact.
- I think we can conclude that this boorish pest has no manners at all.
- These moths also have the nerve to be strong and hardy flyers, which annoys the heck out of me. Doesn’t it bother you, too?
So! Now you’ve got a good idea of what we are up against.
Now, before we make our battle plant, let me show you what we are NOT up against. When I went out into my garden to take a few pictures of cabbage moth caterpillars and the damage they’ve done, I spotted this poor little lacinato kale plant first. A-ha! said I. “That’s the worst one I’ve seen yet!” I took a picture. “Perfect.” Thank you, cabbage moth caterpillar, thought I, for doing such excellent damage to this plant, so I can share it with my Gentle Readers. . .
Then I turned over the leaves, to find the hungry little fella himself, and then–Whoa, Nelly!!
The lovely creature I found making delicate lacework of my lacinato kale plant was actually the beautiful caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail (or American Swallowtail) (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly! So . . . I didn’t squish the jewel-like creature, but instead carefully moved it over to my prosperous dill patch. “Eat away!” I urged it. I have lots of dill, more than I can use, so he’s welcome to it.
Of course, as soon as I told little Mack about the caterpillar, he grabbed a gallon pickle jar (empty, of course) and set up his caterpillar habitat, and then he flew out to my garden and found this caterpillar, promptly named him “Jerry” and established him (and three cousins!) in his new habitat on the back porch. They’re busily munching on dill and thinking about building chrysalises (chrysalii?), last I checked.
Okay, now back to our vile enemy, the Small White cabbage moth: I’ve been doing an informal survey on what other organically-minded gardeners are doing to battle with this innocuous-looking, yet noxious and hungry pest, and I’ve compiled a list of 10 things you can do to cheat the Small White and its hungry brood of its lunch. And dinner. And breakfast, for that matter. So let’s get started.
1. My friend Anne is making sticky traps by painting small pieces of wood a bright yellow color, and then smearing them with petroleum jelly. She expects the cabbage moths to be attracted to the bright yellow color, and then to get stuck in the sticky stuff, and voila! Bye-bye moths. You’ll have to check back later to hear if that seemingly-brilliant method works for Anne. Although I’m sure it will. She’s a smart cookie, this friend of mine.
2. A market gardener friend swears by this recipe: dishwashing liquid, molasses, fish emulsion, water, and beer. She mixes it up in a large pump-type sprayer and sprays everything in her garden. She says that this recipe makes the plants all stronger and more able to withstand attacks from all sorts of pests. (Wonder if it would repel deer?)
3. This same friend also makes a solution of crushed hot peppers (not too hot, she says, or you’ll burn the plants you’re trying to save) and sprays it liberally on the cole crops. You can also use crushed pepper flakes: bring one gallon of water and 3 Tb of crushed pepper flakes to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let sit overnight, and load up your sprayer!
4. Similarly, a solution of chili powder and garlic is said to repel the cabbage moths: Crush and mince 3 cloves of fresh garlic in 2 Tb olive oil, add 1 Tb chili powder, and add to 1 gallon of water. Let sit for 24 hours or more, and you’re good to go!
5. Are you plants already infested? Then spray infested plants with Bt– Bt is a biological insecticide (actually a bacterium that only infects caterpillars) that can help you control an existing cabbage worm problem. Use Bt by spraying your infested crop’s leaves with The cabbage worms will eat the leaves and become infected by the Bt. The good news: the infection will kill the cabbage worms. The bad news: it won’t kill the adult moths or any eggs they may have laid on your plants. One common brand name is Dipel, which you can order easily–right–here. I’ve used this before, and it is reassuringly effective.
(Since I am now an affiliate of Amazon.com, if you buy your Dipel from this link, I’ll get approximately .03 to spend on my own Dipel. But you knew that already, didn’t you?)
6. If you don’t have a problem already, use a floating row cover to keep the moths out of your cabbages and broccoli to begin with. If they can’t get to ‘em, they can’t eat ‘em
7. Do practice crop rotation from year to year. Don’t plant your cole crops in the same spot every year, or your cabbage moth problem will get bigger and bigger from year to year. This is sound advice for every crop, by the way.
There you go, Gentle Reader. From my experience and research, the tried and true cabbage moth control tips in this post are some of the most effective cabbage worm control strategies available. Since the sneaky and hardy cabbage worm can develop resistance to insecticides, organic controls are often used by conventional gardeners and professional vegetable growers as well as by die-hard organic gardeners. So we are in good company, aren’t we?
I’m participating in a fun event every Monday, the Homestead Barn Hop over at one of my favorite websites, the Prairie Homestead. Check it out for scads more informative and helpful posts with homesteading themes. It’s lots of fun, and you’ll learn something, I promise!
- KALE–what’s the big deal, anyway?