Caterpillars in the Vegetable Garden: Part I

Have you ever served broccoli at the dinner table only to find green worms cooked in your food? Yuk! A client of ours says she’ll never grow broccoli again. Too many worms. And she refuses to dump poison on her food to kill the worms. We’re showing her how to grow organic food that does not have caterpillars.

cabbage worm

 The cabbage worm eats holes in the leaves of your cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other brassicas. It only devours the foliage of vegetable crops and weeds in the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). It does not move by looping like an inchworm. It crawls about like most other kinds of caterpillars.

cabbage white

A white butterfly, the adult cabbage worm feeds on nectar of a wide variety of flowers. Like all butterflies, she has straw-like mouthparts. She can’t eat leaves, only her babies can do that. She’ll lay her eggs, usually one at a time, on the underside of brassica leaves.

cabbage looper

The cabbage looper, another caterpillar that trashes your brassicas, moves like an inchworm. It loops its head-end forward first, then brings the rear-end forward arching its body into an upside-down U. It has an appetite for many different kinds of vegetables, not just cabbage family members.

cabbage looper adult

A grayish-brown moth with a white monogram on its forewings, the cabbage looper adult flies about and lays her eggs at night so you usually won’t see her. The moth, like the butterfly, has straw-like mouth parts.

row covers

Brassicas under row covers exclude the adult butterflies and moths. Keep the adults out and you’ll avoid the damage that their caterpillars do to your crops. Cover the plants with a lightweight, white fabric that lets in air, light, and water but keeps bugs out.

hornworm parasitized

Cocoons of a tiny parasitic wasp hang like little white footballs off a tomato hornworm. The female wasp laid her eggs inside the caterpillar, the eggs hatched, and the baby wasps (maggot-like) ate the caterpillar alive from the inside out. When the wasp larvae matured they ate their way through the caterpillar’s skin and spun all these little cocoons. Pretty soon the baby wasps will all fly away and hunt down more caterpillars. A gruesome tale, we know, but the point is that nature has lots of little helpers to aid you in your endeavors to grow clean, healthy vegetables without spraying poison on your food.

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