Waging War On Cabbage Butterflys

cabbage mothDo Those Flapping White Wings Frustrate You?

One of the biggest and most persistent garden pests would have to be the white cabbage moth. Its larvae can decimate your seedlings and turn your kale to lace almost overnight. The question is, how to get rid of this pesky vegetable predator and ensure that you and your family are the only ones eating your crop this year.

While you may be feeling disheartened by the white cabbage butterflies floating around your vegetable patch you have planted out with broccoli and cabbage, there are things you can do to help.

How To Recognize The Moth And Larvae

The female has two spots on each front wing and the male has one. including their wingspan, they are about an inch and a half across. Eggs will be laid on the underside of the leaves and hatch after about 4-5 days into young caterpillars. They are the same color as the leaves so seeing them can be difficult but you won't miss the damage they cause to your vegetables.

These horrid little caterpillars will eat the outside leaves first and work their way in, spending about three weeks destroying and eating your crop before pupating.   

How To Control The White Cabbage Moth

Barrier method

This is the best organic method to protect your plants, as you put a barrier in between the vegetables and the moths. As long as sunshine and water can get through, this does not need to be the Taj Mahal of coverings – any sort of light cloth will be perfect as long as its secured to the ground. Mosquito nets and tulle work wonders at keeping the cabbage butterflies out and keep your vegetables safe.

Making Your Own Spray

These are a good deterrent although they are not as effective as the barrier method. There are many recipes which can be found on the internet for sprays that work, but this is the one I use.

Onion and Chili Spray

    3 large onions
    3 cloves garlic
    3 or 4 hot chillies

  1. Chop up all ingredients and place into a glass bowl
  2. Cover with warm soapy water and stand overnight (or about 10 hours)
  3. Strain and reserve the liquid
  4. Mix with 5 liters of water and use to spray on the plants covering them with the spray very well.
  5. Will store for up to three weeks in the fridge.

Cabbage Moth Caterpillar DamageStore Bought Sprays

If you are struggling with a particularly nasty outbreak of the caterpillars then you may find Dipel to be your solution. This is a product you can buy from your local nursery which is mixed with water and sprayed on to plants. It works by affecting the caterpillars digestive system but is harmless to people. As a side note, Dipel is also useful if you are suffering with the lawn grub. If you are going to spray with Dipel make sure that you don't spray near any fish or fish ponds.

Picking Them Off By Hand

Slow and frustrating but completely organic. (A great task to give to kids!) if you keep poultry you can then feed the captured grubs to your hens or other birds as a tasty treat. While this method is organic and can work, it is labor intensive and its very easy to miss the caterpillars, particularly when they are so well camouflaged.

Using A Butterfly Net

Remember catching butterflies as a child with a net? You can relive those memories catching the cabbage butterfly and then feed them to your hens or other poultry. You can get small nets from many retail stores and they are relatively cheap. Again, this method is labor intensive, but a great job for kids.

caterpillar damageNatural Predators

Birds and wasps are natural predators of the cabbage moth and the caterpillars. If you have a wasp nest in an out of the way place, think twice before destroying it and consider the value of leaving the wasps in peace for all of the cabbage moths they may consume.

If you are getting wasps building nests where they may affect children or yourself, consider building a small box with a hinged bottom in a good spot. It will encourage wasps to build here and if the position becomes inconvenient, close the box up at night and move it!!

Some spiders are also natural predators of the cabbage moth and the caterpillars. When you garden without sprays, these spiders will move in to your garden and help keep the bugs at bay.

Make your garden bird friendly and you will find that birds will help keep the population at bay. Be aware though that if you encourage birds into your garden to eat pests, you may find that they also eat your produce.

Add Fake Cabbage Moths To Your Yard

Ok, while the concept of a cabbage moth scarecrow working sounds hard to believe, apparently cabbage moths are territorial. By putting cabbage moth decoys into your yard you can prevent the real ones from landing and laying their eggs. Still not convinced? Give it a try. You can purchase solar powered fake butterflies to flutter back and forth in your garden, you can make your own plastic cut outs, place egg shells about your garden and hang them on fishing wire so that they 'float' in the breeze. Apparently quantity is important and if you have nasturtiums growing be sure to add a few of your decoys onto the flowers. I have not yet tried this method – but my Mom swears by it. Anything is worth a go.

nasturtiumPlant Nasturtiums

The scent of the nasturtiums is particularly appealing to the white cabbage moth. Planting nasturtiums away from your vegetable garden will attract bees and cabbage butterflies – keeping those dreaded egg laying females away from your veges. this is an effective method – I use it – but you need to use it in conjunction with other control measures as it will not work on its own.

The cabbage moth may be out and about looking for cabbages and broccoli to eat but you will hopefully feel more prepared this season to cheat those nasty caterpillars out of a meal.

Have you got any other suggestions to share with our readers to get rid of their cabbage moths or caterpillars? I'd love to read your ideas below.

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