“O twice and thrice happy those that plant cabbages! O destinies, why did you not spin me a cabbage planter?” deplores Rabelais, who probably never had to deal with a caterpillar invasion of his cabbage patch. These grotty creepers wreak havoc on the whole cruciferae clan: cabbages, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and assorted greens.
The pretty but terribly devious cabbage white butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of your beloved brassicas: A tragedy always ending in tears (yours!) when they morph into caterpillars. From early spring through autumn, busily chomping away with their razor-sharp mandibles, these ghastly gluttons voraciously feed on your poor cabbage leaves, making lace out of them before you know it.
Don’t despair: there are eco-friendly ways to discourage these creatures from laying their eggs on your crops.
Save your old stockings and tights and recycle them into efficient pest deterrent devices. If they have holes in them, don’t use the damaged parts. Cut the feet, tie a knot, stretch over your cabbages and their cousins and secure at the bottom with a string. You can also use the rest of the leg by cutting pieces slightly larger than the cabbage, tie a knot at one end and proceed as above. The nylon will stretch when the cabbages grow. The dreaded butterflies won’t come anywhere near the masked vegetables, not because these bank robber lookalikes scare them away, but because they hate the feel of synthetic netting on their sensitive delicate little bodies.
For added insect protection, plant friendly companions, such as peppermint, amongst your cabbages. The scent wards off the winged foes.
Another clever and sneaky way to protect your produce is to grow “trap” crops – plants known to attract specific pests – alongside your poor defenceless cruciferous. Cosmos, lemon balm and nasturtiums are perfect to lure cabbage whites away from your veggies. These delightful decoys will discourage the pesky pests to come anywhere near your patch, and isolate the damage they can do.
You can also put white eggshells around your cabbages, broccoli and their cousins. On seeing these, the culprits, bitterly disappointed, think that there is another butterfly in residence and they’ll move on to lay their eggs elsewhere.
If, unfortunately, the caterpillars are already in situ, the good news is that you can enlist predatory wasps to terminate them. To attract these tiny, stingless helpers, try many of the same plants that appeal to ladybugs and lacewings such as garlic – for its beautiful mauve flowers – along with lemon balm, parsley, chamomile, peppermint and catnip.
Finally, if you decide to exterminate the cabbage caterpillars, worms and other non-grata, a large dose of flour sprinkled on their favourite food – cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli – is a deadly weapon. Leave it for a couple of days before rinsing. The damaging lace-makers will gobble up voraciously this flour, fatal to their poor digestive system, and die a horrible death, screaming in agony.
You’ll know everything about cabbages and other vegetables in
Le Dictionnaire à tout faire du jardin