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Walking up to your garden and finding that your kale and other greens have hundreds of holes in them is one of the worst feelings! You might not see anything at first and assume that it was a bug that has come and gone. But, if you look closer, you will most likely find a little, velvety, green worm. Do not be fooled by its cuteness! It is actually wreaking havoc on your garden. And chances are, if you see one, there are many more throughout. These little guys are known as cabbage worms.
Cabbage worms are very common garden pests and are usually found munching on cabbage, kale, broccoli, and several other vegetables within the cabbage family. They do a great job of blending right in to whatever vegetable they admire most in your garden, so they are actually very hard to notice at first. It is not too concerning to see a hole or two in your leaves, but if left untouched, they can completely consume entire plants in no time, leaving just a stem behind.
The white butterfly above may look harmless and innocent when really it is the parent of your destructive cabbage worms! When the female white caterpillar butterfly is ready to lay her eggs, she will try to find any cruciferous plants that are available (i.e., cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.). She will then deposit her eggs on the underside of the leaves where they will eventually hatch into little baby cabbage worms two to three weeks later.
These butterflies are extremely common in the United States, and you are able to easily identify them by their white wings. We have seen so many of these white cabbage butterflies all around our garden this year. Little did we know, they were most likely laying eggs on any cruciferous vegetable it could find. We just recently found these worms on our kale, but have yet to see them on any of our cabbage or mustard!
While there are many pesticides that could easily control cabbage worms, your best bet is to use an organic method for the safety of yourself and your plants. Pesticides are not recommended because they will quickly contaminate your soil, grass, and other surrounding plants. Worst of all, they can be seriously dangerous to humans and pets, seeing as they are ultimately a form of poison. Organic methods are highly recommended and will keep your garden in great shape year after year.
Here are the methods that we use to combat cabbage worms and other detrimental insects in the garden.
One of the most important things we could recommend to any gardener (whether you are just beginner or a seasoned veteran) would be to keep a garden journal. We just started our garden journal this year, and we can honestly say it is going to be great to be able to look back at all of our notes when this time comes next year. This journal will give us reminders for every important technique we have used, as well as the techniques that we will never use again!
For example, it will remind us to put on our floating row cover so that we will not have an issue with cabbage worms and to also make sure that same row cover is secure enough so as to not let any cabbage moths enter to lay eggs. Trust us, it is worth it to have a little reminder so that you are able to enjoy your cruciferous greens and other delicious vegetables all season long.
Wooden frame installed on raised bed with row cover attached.