Friday, June 11, 2010

Kid's Gardening - Attack of the Cabbage Worms

Have you ever watched Winnie the Pooh? You know the ones when Rabbit is fighting the caterpillars in his garden, the ones that sort of take over from time to time? Right, that's how I feel. And I finally fully understand why Eric Carle called his book The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Remember in my garden tour, how beautiful my kohlrabi looked? Yes, well, that was before The Invasion Of the Cabbage Worm.

You know those pretty little white butterflies that seem to just be hatching all over the place? Do NOT let their pretty, dainty wings fool you! They are EVIL. They have a plan to take over the world, and it just may be working.

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad. But they're definitely decimating my brassicas. Broccoli, kohlrabi, and turnips all look miserable, with holes spreading quickly through their leaves.

There are two ways to fight cabbage worms organically - pick them off by hand, or use a biological powder dusted on the leaves. I'd rather not use the dust - it washes off every time you water, meaning I'd have to apply it daily since I have to water every day. So I've been spending an hour or more every evening, carefully inspecting the back of each brassica leaf, picking off dozens of worms. They range is size from barely being able to see them to an inch long. I drop each one into a bucket of Dr. Bronner's castille soap. It's satisfying, watching the little suckers drown. Mwahaha. Seriously though, there are a whole lot of other things I'd rather be spending my time doing.

In an effort to prevent further infestation, my garden is now filled with mounds of covered crops:

Row cover fabric - it lets the sunlight in, it lets the water through, it keeps those damn moths out. Every so often we watch a moth fluttering around the covered crop, looking very confused. Neener neener - go lay your eggs somewhere else, you mean ol' moth!


Every child has certain things he or she is good at. This is true even in gardening. Of course, we all like to harvest - that's the best part of having a garden. But there are other chores too... weeding, thinning, watering, fertilizing, worm-picking....

I have discovered Chloe's strength when it comes to the garden. Playing on her natural affinity for bugs, I asked her to look and see what was eating holes in my kohlrabi. In about two and a half seconds, she stood up with a teeny little caterpillar on her finger and exclaimed, "I found it mom! It's a cute little green caterpillar!"

Cute! She called that nefarious little worm 'cute'! At first it was hard for her to murder them, one by one, dropping them into the Bucket of Doom. But she started to get over it. I told her I'd pay her ten cents for every worm, and she's had a fantastic time picking them off and disposing of them. Of course, she did have to save a few for her and her sister to play with.

It's all about figuring out where a kid's interests lie, I think, when it comes to getting them to help in the garden. My seven year old is quickly becoming the Bug Aficionado in the family. I only hope her interest doesn't wane when it's time to hand-pick squash bugs.


inadvertent farmer said...

ROFL...I used to pay my boys a dime a slug for them to impale them on a big stick!

Sorry for your bug problems...cabbage worms are about the worst! Kim

The author said...

I feel your pain! I have had a time with caterpillars eating everything in my garden. I "installed" marigold and basil and it seems to be working. So far...

Anonymous said...

Hooray for finding a practical application for that bug addiction of hers, and Go, Mamma, getting over your aversion enough to pick them off, too!!!
hmm... do you have any songbirds around, and can you attract them to your worms?

faith buss said...

I've been fighting the "cute" worms in my sunflowers and squash bugs too. I HATE them. And I feel your pains. :)

Just Me said...

At least you have found a good way to dispose of the pesky, green buggers.

Wendy said...

That's great that she's so interested in bugs! My older kid is but the younger must have an innate fear. Hope the floating row covers work out! I bought some, but have never had the energy to cut it to size and put it out. To my own detriment.

I also have those cabbage worms. Not sure if my broccoli will do anything. Probably too late in the season to make a good show now.