Losing the plot over caterpillars

A couple of weeks back I decided – as they seemed determined to scoff it anyway – to let the Cabbage Whites have free range of the brassica bed. The grand idea was to feed the leaves to the chickens, complete with all the fat caterpillars, ridding the garden of the plants and the insects in one fell swoop.

However, this cunning plan has slightly backfired. Firstly, the girls have now decided they’ve had too much of a good thing, are tired of caterpillars, and point blank refuse to eat them. And secondly, this solution would have been a winner if the caterpillars had actually stayed on the brassicas. But they didn’t. I turned my back for just a second, and the little blighters are now EVERYWHERE! They’re rampaging all over the rhubarb, celery and  beans, and some have even snuck into the greenhouse and are having a go at the tomatoes and peppers in there. They’ve even chomped the baby cabbage plants I had grown ready to plant up into the beds.

Deciding enough was enough, I pulled out every last remaining brassica plant, and dumped them unceremoniously in the brown bin. Enlisting the help of the youngest, we then set to work rounding up any caterpillars that were left behind. This was no mean feat, as they were out in their droves. The more we peered, the more we found and we’d soon amassed a huge collection.  As the chickens aren’t keen, these went into the pond as tasty treats for the fish.

The caterpillar collection

The caterpillar collection

Next year I think I’ll give brassicas a miss. I just don’t think they are for us anymore. Mrs Cabbage White can go and lay her eggs in someone else’s patch, thank you very much, and I’ll be growing more stuff that we actually like to eat.

That done, the garden still needed a bit of a tidy up. The strawberries have well and truly finished, so that bed got a good haircut to allow the plants to rest. I’ve been planting up some the runners in pots, and these have rooted, so I’ll have a good stock of healthy plants for next year.

The peas have also stopped producing and the broad beans are now past their best. There were a couple of random pods left, but nothing to write home about inside – which is hardly surprising as they have all been cropping since early spring. Out came the finished pea and bean plants and into the empty space went a row of Swiss Chard (a brilliant alternative to spinach) and a row of lettuce. With any luck these just might just produce a harvest for later this year.

I then dismantled the cane and string wigwams and frames that had been supporting the plants. As I carefully wound up the string and put it safely in the shed to reuse another day, I seriously wondered if I was actually turning into my Grandad…

This appeared in The Hinckley Times on 29 August

The Hinckley Times - August 29 2013

The Hinckley Times – August 29 2013

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Cabbage White

Looking out of the window last week, I’d be forgiven for thinking that – despite the lovely weather – it appeared to be snowing out there. And only over one patch of the veg plot. A closer look made my heart sink. It appeared our old friend, the Cabbage White butterfly was back with a vengeance, and had invited all her friends and relatives along to the party too.

Everywhere I looked, these harmless looking creatures flittered and fluttered in and out of the brassica bed, laying their eggs willy nilly all over my crops. Peering at the patch, it soon became obvious that I was a tad too late in spotting them, and they’d been busy indeed. Peering at the leaves, a good few now had clusters of tiny yellow eggs on – others were a stage further, with little holes nibbled out of them by miniscule caterpillars. Now, I could go through the plants with a fine tooth comb, and squish any I came across, but to be honest, it would be a mammoth task – and I know full well they’ll be back again tomorrow. I could also cover the plants with netting … but do you know what? I really haven’t got the time or inclination.

Cabbage White eggs on the brassicas

Cabbage White eggs

The brassica beds have gone bonkers this year, producing masses of dark leaves, but they’re not looking their best. The purple sprouting broccoli has bolted to seedand I think I may have planted the cabbages a tad too close – they’re struggling to heart up, and are more along the lines of leafy trees now. The chickens love them: the family hate them, and frankly I’m growing tired of thinking up new ways of disguising them into tasty dishes.

Add that to the fact that we now have an abundance of lovely colourful summer vegetables to pick from. Don’t you think that courgettes, aubergines, beans, peas, tomatoes and cucumbers are SO much more appealing at this time of year?

So, I’ve taken the executive decision to bid the brassicas goodbye, and to let them go. So there! Cabbage Whites – come on in, the door’s open. You’re welcome to my cabbage patch. Lay your eggs to your hearts’ content. The leaves are still eventually destined for the chickens, but very soon they will be complete with fat, juicy caterpillars. The girls are going to be in chicken heaven.

Caterpillars on the vegetable plot

Cabbage White Caterpillars

When the bed is empty and clear, it will give me the perfect spot to plant onion sets and garlic, come the autumn.

But we won’t be entirely brassica free. I’ve always associated cabbages with hearty winter- warming, gravy-soaking dishes. I’ve got some tiny Savoy and Tenderheart plants that I started off in a seed tray a while back. As the peas and beans get whipped out of their spot, I’ll replace them with these new plants. With any luck some will mature through winter.

For the time being though, we’ll be feasting on our summer crops and salads.

The dreaded cabbage white

During my day job, there are lots of opportunities to fraternise with learned Doctor types. One such chap was a keen gardener, and I recall having an in depth conversation with him about our shared hobby.

At the time we were digging out our pond, which, being 7 feet by 6 feet was no easy task. It soon became apparent that my colleague was also digging a pond… for which he would need to hire a digger. We then moved onto the topic of greenhouses, and what to grow in them. He announced that he didn’t use his much, due to the fact that he couldn’t get water down to it. Hmmm… a digger for the pond, and no water supply to the greenhouse… his garden was obviously a far larger, grander affair than mine.

It soon became evident that this large, grand garden went hand in hand with a house in a picturesque little village. I mentioned my vast collection of seeds: all obtained when our well known local hardware store sells them off at half price at the end of the season. He’d never heard of the shop, to which I replied, “you must have done… there’s one on every high street.”

“Not on mine there isn’t”, was the puzzled reply.

The subject then turned to garden pests – and in particular the dreaded cabbage white. This innocent-looking little butterfly has the potential to devastate an entire patch of vegetables. Brassicas are its particular favourite, and once it spots its target, eggs are laid in gay abandon all over them. Well, I say all over them – rather, all under them.  Regular checks are essential to play ‘hunt the eggs’, which appear on the underside of leaves, as clusters of yellow dots. Should you miss them, in no time at all, you’ll have a hungry hoard of caterpillars (who are handily the exact shade green as the vegetables), marauding through the bed, chomping anything and everything that crosses their path. Inevitably this means curtains for your cabbage patch.

We then entered a debate on whether putting netting over the veg actually did any good at all, as the cabbage white may simply lay her eggs on top of it, and any eggs will just drop through – making them doubly hard to find as they are now under the net. We agreed that spraying with pesticides was only done as a complete last resort, as you were liable to kill off friendly insects like ladybirds, along with the stuff that you’re trying to eradicate.

At the end of the conversation, I heard a phrase that I have never heard before in my life, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never hear again. Turning to leave, his parting comment, in his rather posh Dr’s voice was, “So, Lynnette, do you cover your brassicas?”.

With that, another work colleague who sat opposite me stifled a guffaw and disappeared behind the desk divider….

Waging war on the cabbage white

I don’t know how to say this… my purple sprouting broccoli (PSB to those in the know) have been violated in their own homes.

War on the cabbage white

I’d started them off in the little greenhouse so they could get good spurt on before they left the nest and got transferred off down the garden.

Checked at the weekend, and a cheeky little cabbage white has sneaked in – ignoring the complete patch of cabbages down the garden – and laid its eggs all over my little seedlings. The daily routine has now extended to catapillar watch – and some of the little critters are brilliant at the art of camoflauge and blending in.

I will now take no prisoners. War on the cabbage white. I will crush you and your sons and daughters with my bare hands if that’s what it takes… My PSB will again sleep soundly!