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.
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.
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.
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?