Caterpillars ate my kale

The past week has been dominated by apples… some are frozen, some are bottled, some are in cake, many are still in boxes and even more remain on the tree. It’s very time-consuming but also very satisfying.

And abundance of small tortoiseshell butterflies (Mara Morris; Denmark Farm Conservation Centre)

And abundance of small tortoiseshell butterflies (Mara Morris; Denmark Farm Conservation Centre)

This is a funny time of year in the garden – we are always given to believe that autumn is always about harvests and the end of growing crops for the year, but this simply isn’t true. This summer was a fabulous year for butterflies in the UK, as you can see from the picture on the right taken at Denmark Farm just a couple of weeks ago. Not all butterflies are quite as welcome as these small tortoiseshells, however, and it has been an equally good year for both large and small whites… those are the ones that eat your cabbages.

Skeletonised kale leaf

Skeletonised kale leaf

And so it was in my garden… an infestation of caterpillars on my broccoli and kale reduced all the leaves to mere skeletons. But I was not fooled. This defoliation does not kill strong healthy plants, so I left them in the ground and the caterpillars have now gone away to pupate, leaving my plants to magically regenerate. Later on in the year we will be harvesting fresh greens from the kale, then in 2014 there will be white and purple sprouting broccoli to enjoy. When plants get damaged like that, it’s very tempting to just get rid of them, but sometimes it’s worth thinking twice.

Brand new growth on the broccoli

Brand new growth on the broccoli

Other plants are also thriving in the garden – I’ve recently planted red onion sets, and the oriental greens (and reds) are establishing well. In addition, the autumn raspberries are flowering and starting to set fruit. It just goes to show, the growing season can last a very long time if you plant the right crops.

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9 Comments

  1. All my brassica have been striped to the bone more than any other year, normally I just let it pass and wait for colder weather to come, but this year it is taking a long time to heal ….

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  2. Gary Finch

     /  October 8, 2013

    Hmmm, in a mild winter and long summer the cabbage whites will have several cycles of egg laying and the caterpillars can continue feeding on the leaves into december (as can the pebble moth) PSB can usually survive as a crop as we harvest the product of it’s biennaual nature – kales and spring cabbages and caulis etc will have less reistance and space for regrowth before bolting next spring – the issue has been a lack of wasps (who ‘harvest small larvae for their young)and a long summer – hand picking or spreading white paper below the plants and shaking the plants (when feeling threatened cabbage white larvae will drop off the plant to climb back up later – the aryvedic method of mixed plantings (to hide the plants) can work for a while. you can always rub the eggs from the leaves (small whites lay individual eggs, large lay clusters) but you may easily mistake ladybird eggs for pests

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    • I have never heard of the shaking method before. Usually I net brassicas to avoid infestation, but various demands on my time stopped this from happening this year, unfortunately.

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      • Gary Finch

         /  October 8, 2013

        shaking only encourages them to drop (and you have to be careful not to damage the roots), you still have to physically remove them – i have wondered if some sort of barrier, like vaseline would work?

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  3. I found some net tunnels worked brilliantly for keeping the caterpillars at bay from the PSB, but what alternative pest do you suppose took a liking to the tunnel’s shade…

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  4. Gary Finch

     /  October 9, 2013

    I think nets are great – shade for brassicas is a need, they flag in hot sunlight, though i suspect slugs and snails then get a free rein – to be considered for net use, will it let rain through (very tight nets will only let heavy rain through with out ‘run off’) and are the holes big enough to stop the ‘whites’ getting in? I have observed butterflies turning their wings to squeeze through, also if the brassicas touch the top of the tunnel they will lay eggs through the gaps

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  5. Laying eggs through the nets! I suppose you have to admire their perseverance.

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