Is there anything more frustrating than tenderly raising a seedling, only to have it munched to pieces by a predator? Well, the white cabbage butterfly and it’s iridescent green offspring have found their home among my young broccoli and the results have been devastating. However, I hope that my recent efforts have thwarted their attempt to crunch their way through the second wave of seedlings that I planted out last night.
This is my third year of growing cabbages, caulis and broccoli in my little kitchen garden, but I have never experienced the blight brought on by the white butterfly as I have in recent weeks. Instead of jumping onto the problem with the full wrath of an angry gardener, I dilly-dallied around for days, trying not to use derris dust (some say it’s evil, but I haven’t researched it yet), keeping my garden well watered and generally hoping that they would go away.
Of course, they didn’t and the destruction was widespread. Well, okay not too widespread, as I only plant 6-10 brassicas at a time (we are a small family). Still, it was a bitter disappointment.
They say that the first step to recovery is to acknowledge that there is an issue. So, camera in hand I inspected the damage and found:
- A variety of different sized holes on ALL of the leaves
- Little white eggs sprouting out from the under side of ALL of the leaves
- Hungry little green caterpillars crunching their way along my tender stems
So without thinking, I simply snipped all of the leaves off and ousted them to the compost bin! However, this left leafless green broccoli stems in my vege patch. As the stalks are around 8cm high, I hope that their roots are well established and that they will bounce back with new growth. We will see.
Luckily, I am a succession planter and had new broccoli seedlings growing in the wings – as well as cauliflower. So, last night I ventured out to plant them with some protection, should the white butterfly strike again. And they would have, as there were four butterflies hovering over the vege patch when I went out!
I had an army of ideas for warding off the pest. First, I sprinkled flour over the seedlings, as caterpillars are said to eat it and fall off! Next, I placed clear plastic plant hats over each seedling (which will also provide protection from the elements) and then I pulled a fine mesh net over both vege beds, carefully fastening it to the wooden frames using wide-headed nails.
I have since learned that nasturtiums attract white butterfly away from brassicas and can be pulled out when laden with eggs or caterpillars. I love flowers in my garden, so the next time I visit the garden centre I will pick up a punnet or two of these and plant them about. They have the added benefits of attracting beneficial insects into the garden, as well as providing edible flowers and seeds that can be pickled and eaten like capers.
With any luck, my efforts will be rewarded in a couple of months with healthy, strong, pest-free brassicas for our kitchen table.