How To Get Rid Of Cabbage Worms

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:34 am on Monday, September 1, 2014

[Planet Natural]

Fall is the time to plant brassicas. This is the mustard family of plants. It includes cabbage, turnips, kale, mustard, radish, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli (among others).

And with brassicas come the cabbage worm.

The cabbage worm is the caterpillar of the Cabbage Butterfly, those little white butterflies that look so cute floating around your garden. They lay eggs on the brassica plants, and the caterpillars hatch and eat your plants.

The first time I planted broccoli in the fall, the cabbage worms were soon all over my plants. By the time I discovered the infestation, they were well on their way to destroying the plants. I didn’t get a single head of broccoli that year.

After that, I tried to control the problem but getting rid of the butterflies, but I’ve relaxed about that. After all, butterflies are pollinators.

And besides, it feels wrong to hurt a butterfly.

So here’s a no-pesticide way to control cabbage worms on your fall garden.

Stagger Brassica Plants.

If you plant the brassicas in a row, you’re giving the butterflies a nice runway on which to lay their eggs. But if you stagger them in among other types of plants, you’re upping your odds that the butterflies won’t see all the brassicas and won’t lay on every one of them.

Cover Plants

Use row covers or individual covers like Milk Jugs to keep the butterflies off the plants. The butterfly can’t lay eggs on a plant it can’t get to.

Inspect For Eggs

In early fall (now) inspect the underside of the leaves for the eggs. You can see them. They’re yellow or white and look like this.

[Dals Wildlife]

Brush them off.

Pick Off Worms

The cabbage worm is hard to see! It starts off tiny and it’s the exact same color as the leaf. If you see a hole in the leaf, however, you probably have them. (Also you can see their brown poop.) A magnifying glass can help you focus. Pick them off and drown them or feed them to the chickens.

Attract Beneficial Insects.

According to UCDavis “important parasites include the pupal parasite Pteromalus puparum; the larval parasites Apanteles glomeratus, Microplitis plutella, and several tachinid flies; and egg parasites in the Trichogramma genus.”

Basically this boils down to several wasps that lay their eggs in the caterpillar and kills it in a gross way I’m not going to go into right now.

[Forestry Images]

According to Mother Earth News, you can attract these wasps by planting “sweet alyssum, chamomile, feverfew, catnip and buckwheat. When allowed to produce flowers, dill, fennel and other members of the carrot family also attract braconid wasps.”

How do you get rid of cabbage worms?

My 2014 Fall Garden

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:33 am on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can you believe August is half over? I’m busy harvesting. This is today’s haul: kale, tomatoes, four different types of green beans, three different types of peppers, corn, lemons, oranges, baby carrots, and an egg.

And while all this is going on, it’s also time to think about my fall garden!

Here’s my plan for My 2014 Fall Garden:

To plant now:

    Brussels Sprouts

To plant next month:

    Fava Beans
    Turnips or Rutabaga

I’ve never grown Turnips or Rutabagas before, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do. I try to grow something new every season to keep things interesting.

What’s your fall garden plan?

Magical Compost Tea

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:22 am on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You may be asking yourself why I am posting a bucket of muddy water on my blog. Ah, but that’s not mud, that’s compost tea.

I’ve written about the magic of compost before on here, and how amazing it is that you can take your kitchen waste and turn it into an fertilizer for your garden. This year, I’ve been taking the extra compost I have and making compost tea with it, and using it as an all-purpose liquid fertilizer for my plants.

Let me tell you: it works great. If you pour compost tea on a droopy plant, it will pick up within an hour of your applying it–that’s how powerful this stuff is. And it’s free and easy to make.

So how do you make it? Put a quart (4 cups) of compost in a 5 gallon bucket and fill that bucket with water. Let the bucket sit overnight so that the compost can “steep” into the water, thus the name compost “tea.” After that, transfer the compost tea to a watering can and water your plants as you would with any other liquid fertilizer.

Compost tea can be applied to any plant. It’s especially great if the plant is producing food and seems to need an extra boost of nutrition. It also helps sickly or struggling plants and is a great way to feed your container garden.

Also compost tea lets you make the most out of a small amount of compost. So if you don’t have room for a giant compost bin, don’t worry. Make what you can and then make compost tea with it. That way your plants can still benefit from the magic of compost.

Grow Your Own Hops

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:36 am on Monday, June 9, 2014

Three years ago, a friend gave us two Cascade hops plants. Since we make our own beer, I put them in the ground to see what they would do.

Two years later, they were doing this:

Hop plants are a sticky, fast-growing vine. They produce papery flowers in late August, then die down and go dormant until spring.

Hop flowers, of course, are a major ingredient in beer.

The first two years we had the hops plant, they didn’t do much, just produced a few flowers before dying back down to the ground for the winter.

But last year, the vines grew about 10 feet and were loaded with flowers. I harvested two buckets worth of flowers, which I then de-stemmed and cleaned.

Since we couldn’t make beer with them right away, we vacuum sealed them in bags and popped them in the freezer.

I can’t wait to see what kind of beer Mr. Savvy makes with them.

How I Grow Lettuce

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:04 am on Thursday, June 5, 2014

For years, I had trouble growing lettuce. My California climate meant the lettuce tended to bolt–i.e. form flowers–before I had a chance to harvest it. Either that, or I just never got enough lettuce to justify the work of growing it.

However in the last few years, that all changed. I hit upon a system that allows me to eat lettuce deep into the summer. Here’s how I grow lettuce:

1. In early spring, I sow a mix of salad seeds in the ground.

I sprinkle the seeds liberally in a shallow trench, cover, and water thoroughly.

Currently, I’m using the Rocky Top Lettuce Mix Salad Blend. I like a mix of seeds because lettuce, like everything else in life, is enhanced by variety.

2. As the lettuce grows, I eat the lettuce I thin.

With daily watering, the lettuce quickly becomes big enough to thin. When it does, I begin to pull the small lettuce plants out, leaving the bigger ones in their place. I break off the dirty roots and collect the leaves. I usually end up with a salad’s worth of lettuce.

The lettuce remains very densely planted, but you know what? Lettuce seems to like being densely planted.

What you’re looking at here is a row of lettuce in my garden. As you can see, I plant the lettuce densely together so that they grow into each other. The plants are happy and shiny and delicious.

3. When the lettuce begins to form heads, I begin breaking off the outer leaves for the salad.

As I go along, there are fewer lettuce plants in the row, but they are bigger. Instead of pulling whole plants, I start pulling leaves from the outside of each plant, which are very tender because the plant is still young and in the ground. This stimulates the plant and makes it put energy into making more leaves into making flowers.

Every time I want a salad, I go out and collect a bowl full of lettuce.

4. To keep the lettuce from bolting, I cover it with a grate, like so.

Bolting means that the lettuce plant starts making flowers. For most lettuce, this makes the leaves taste bitter and nasty. To slow this process, I put a grate of wire over the plant. This lets light through but keeps the lettuce from getting too hot. (Alternately, you could just plant the lettuce in dappled sunlight.)

5. After a month or two, the strongest lettuce plants have formed heads, like you see in the grocery store.

That’s when I pluck the whole thing out and take it inside for dinner.

That’s my method. What’s your favorite kind of lettuce?

Growing A Wild Flower Lawn

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:37 am on Tuesday, June 3, 2014

As much as I like the idea of a clover lawn, there’s one idea that I like even better: replacing my lawn with a wild flower meadow.

According to HGTV, you can swap out your traditional lawn for a unique mini meadow, giving it a splash of color. From the site:

The simple way to create a meadow look is to allow your lawn to grow long and let the grass flower. To add extra color, plant wildflower plugs in groups within the grass, along with small bulbs. Plant in the fall after cutting the grass short. To keep fertility low, which will encourage wildflowers, do not use lawn fertilizers and always remove clippings so nutrients cannot re-enter the soil. It can take several years to establish a balance between grass and wildflowers.

And then your yard will look like a Monet painting?

Growing A Clover Lawn

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:39 am on Monday, June 2, 2014

[Small Things]

Up until 1940, clover lawns were common in the United States. In fact, the first gardening book in the US, published by Andrew Jackson Downing in 1841, said to “sow four bushels of it to the acre and not a pint less as you plan to walk on velvet!”

The clover lawn fell out of favor in the US with the advent of more weed-killing pesticides, which is a shame, if you ask me.

Our front yard is a patch of weeds right now, but next year I’m considering planting a clover lawn. I see them around town and always think they look charming and friendly in a way that your usual grass lawn do not. There are lots of advantages to a clover lawn. For example:

1. You don’t have to fertilize. In fact, clover are nitrogen affixing plants, meaning that they actually improve the quality of your soil over time by pulling it from the air and putting it into the soil.

2. You don’t have to mow. At full height, clover get about 4-8 inches tall and produces small white flowers. If you’re happy with that height, you don’t have to get out the mower anymore.

3. Clover attracts beneficial insects.
Bees in particular like clover.

4. Clover is drought tolerant. Once established, they take less watering than regular lawns.

5. A clover lawn looks cute and smells great.

[Urban Pollinators]

Do you have a clover lawn? What do you think?

Controlling Aphids

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 8:38 am on Wednesday, May 14, 2014

[Courtesy Luc Viatour]


Aphids come in many colors. I’ve seen them in green, gray, black, white, and red. Sometimes they have wings and sometimes they don’t. Despite their changing appearance, aphids always do the same thing: clump on the ends of your plants and slowly suck the life out of them.

I may be jinxing myself by writing this, but I have been gaining control of my aphid problem lately. My garden is changing over the years, and as it does, it is becoming more balanced and the aphids (knock on wood) are less of a problem. Here’s what worked for me:

1. Observe The Aphids. The first step of getting rid of any pest is to observe what is happening in the garden. Are the aphids there on their own or are they being put there by ants that want to feed on the sugary honeydew the aphids secrete? (Read more about the relationship between ants and aphids here.) Are the aphids attacking all the plants or just one kind of plant? How are they getting into the garden? Think of this step as information gathering. If you know what’s going on in the garden, it’s much easier to act.

2. Attract Beneficial Insects. Last year I talked about putting in plants that attract predatory insects in the garden. This really works. My garden is full of insects that were simply not there a few years ago–ladybugs, soldier beetles, predatory wasps, etc. This is the best way to control your aphids because the bugs do it for you. For example, this winter my fava beans had aphids. Before I could react, a bunch of soldier beetles descended and ate the aphids up for me. The downside is that is a slower control method–it took about a year to start seeing results–but you can jump start the process by buying ladybugs in the store and releasing them into your garden.

3. Kill Ants. Often the aphids aren’t really the problem, the ants are. If you have both aphids and ants streaming into your garden, the ants are probably putting the aphids on the plants. If that’s the case, you can remove the aphids all you want but the ants will just put more of them on your plants. Here is a post on how to kill outdoor ants.

4. Spray Aphids Off With Water. If the plant can handle it, spray the aphids off with the hose. Even assuming they could survive, aphids are not smart enough to regroup and go back on your plant. This works great for established plants, but won’t work for seedlings or more delicate plants that will bruise from the water.

5. Use A Gentle Insecticide Soap.
Finally, I preemptively spray areas that I know are vulnerable to aphids with insecticide soap. In particular, I always spray the new growth on my squash plants, which is apparently an aphid paradise. Use insecticide soap that says you can use “up to the day of harvest” and doesn’t harm bees. Or make your own.

That’s my method. How do you control aphids?

Five More Beneficial Insects

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:01 am on Monday, May 5, 2014

I’ve talked about beneficial insects as a means of pest control in the vegetable garden before. Without a doubt, getting natural predators to destroy pests for you is the easiest, cleanest, no-hassle way to have happy plants.

While attracting these insects is not hard, the first step is to learn to recognize them when you see them. So here are Five More Beneficial Insects to keep an eye out for in the garden:

1. Soldier Beetle. As I mentioned in my post on controlling aphids, last year I had an aphid infestation on my fava beans. I was out there every day spraying my plants with water, but there always seemed to be more aphids on the plants. Then suddenly, this swarm of bugs descended on my fava beans. They were soldier beetles, and like a protecting army, they ate all the aphids and then moved into the backyard and ate more aphids off some sow thistle I had allowed to grow up. I couldn’t believe how great these bugs were.

To attract to your yard, plant hydrangea, catnip, or goldenrod in your garden.

2. Tachinid Fly. There are many types of flies out there in the world besides the common house fly, and tachinid flies are some of the best for your garden. The adults lay eggs on pests like cutworms or earwigs, and the larvae then destroy the insect from the inside out. One female can lay up to 6,000 eggs. The adult flies are also pollinizers.

To attract to your garden, plant parsley, buckwheat, or lemon balm.

3. Black Ground Beetle. Talk about ubiquitous, these beetles are everywhere. They like to eat soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, snails, and slugs. Black Ground Beetles are nocturnal, meaning they are a defense to insects that do damage to your plants at night.

They like to live in decaying plant matter, so black ground beetles will probably show up in your mulch.

4. Braconid Wasps. I’m not going to lie, braconid wasps are disturbing little suckers. They are parasitoid wasps that lay dozens of white eggs on pests like the tomato hornworm, which then slowly suck the life out of the poor caterpillar. (Click here to see an image of what this looks like.) But they are extremely effective in the garden and get rid of many pests.

To attract, plant herbs like yarrow, coriander, fennel, or dill.

5. Spiders. Every year in late summer, my garden is suddenly full of spider webs. It is always tempting to remove them, but I usually let the webs stand, at least around tomatoes and other pest-attracting plants. Spiders will certainly eat anything that comes into its web–although that also includes other beneficial insects like honeybees.

To attract spiders, just let the webs stay put. I notice that one web is soon surrounded by several others; spiders must look to each other for good spots to build their homes.

For more on what plants to put in to attract specific beneficial insects, check out this site.

Predatory Insects In the Garden

Filed under: Gardening — Savvy Housekeeper at 7:15 am on Sunday, May 4, 2014

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden ladybug attracts yard

This year, I have noticed a dramatic increase of ladybugs in my garden. I figured this was because of the dramatic number of aphids–and it probably is–but it may also have something to do with the yarrow plant I put on the border of my yard. It seems to be bringing in new insects I haven’t seen before.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden yarrow attracts yard
(Yarrow Flower courtesy of Bailie Byrne)

Or maybe the ecology of the garden is just getting more complex. I’m don’t know.

Lately I have been trying to identify the predatory insects, those beneficial bugs that eat the “bad” bugs like aphids. I am hoping that by bringing beneficial insects into the garden, the cycle of nature will get the aphids under control without me having to do anything.

Everyone knows that ladybugs eat aphids, as well as mites and other critters. But I have learned that their larva eats something like 10 times the numbers of bug than an adult ladybug does. Also, the larva looks nothing like a ladybug.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden ladybug larva larvae attracts yard

It looks like an accordion crossed with an alligator. I have seen these in my garden too, but thought they were another bug. Apparently not, just baby ladybugs.

I also have been seeing this guy:

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden hoverfly attracts yard

I thought it was a wasp or a yellow jacket, but it is a hoverfly. Like the ladybug, their larvae eat aphids, as well as mealybugs, scale, and leafhoppers. Adult hoverflies feed on pollen and are attracted by bright flowers, like yarrow. They don’t have stingers, either.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden pirate minute attracts yard

This is a Minute Pirate Bug. I think I have seen them around. It eats thrips, aphids, caterpillars, and spiders. So a bit of a mix there–spiders are cool–but anything that eats aphids is welcome in my garden.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden big-eyed attracts yard

Here is a Big-Eyed Bug. Creepy but effective. It kills everything–whiteflies, aphids, mites, cabbage loopers, and bollworms, among them. I haven’t noticed them in my yard, but I am keeping my eyes open.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden lacewing attracts yard

Finally, this is a lacewing. Its larvae eat aphids, mealeybugs, mites, and caterpillars. Here’s a picture of the lacewing larva:

Incidentally, there is one plant that is said to attract all of these beneficial insects: the Buckwheat plant. It attracts all the above insects, except the Big-eyed Bug, and you can make cereal out of it.

savvyhousekeeping good insects predatory bugs beneficial garden buckwheat attracts yard

Maybe I should plant some next to the yarrow.

Here is more on good and bad bugs in the garden.

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