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Cabbage White Butterfly & Caterpillars - Avoiding a massacre!

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Brassica's are magnets for these pests and the can decimate a garden in days. My first year planting Broccolini on my property was a disaster, I was away 4 days and came home to a stem where it had been. I hate working with row cover, so I knew that wasn't the answer for me. I started researching and last year was my 'trial' year! I had massive success, and look forward to expanding this year with 3x the Brassica's. I lost my photos between May and Aug when I changed my phone, so I no longer have my 'munched on vs not munched' photos.

This cabbage white looper was in my greenhouse, newly hatched in October and still had it's hair. This one is TINY and this leaf was only the size of fingernail.

Brassica's - Cabbage, Broccolini, Kholrabi, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Kale, Turnip, Collard Greens, Bok Choy, Radish Also - Mustard Greens (Mizuna), Radish and Arugula - although these are strong tasting greens aren't often attacked

So a few key factors in general about how I garden that are a key to my success.

1) My entire food garden is polyculture. Monoculture of huge blocks of one type of plant is not nature's way. Take your cues from nature.

2) I rotate my crops for pest control, Brassica's grow in the same spot max every 3 years. I

3) I grow cover crops or legumes before my Brassica's as I never leave a bed empty. if you're not cropping for soil abundance, give it a nice compost addition

4) I never till an established garden bed. Tilling disturbs the happy business going on in your soil. A broad fork is a very easy way to loosen the soil. Mine is 2' wide and does the job in short order.

5) I attract songbirds with multiple bird houses and black oil sunflowers. They LOVE worms and beetles and are a big help with garden cleanup!

You've probably heard of companion planting, like Tomatoes and Garlic grow well together. Companion planting for pests has truly been garden changing for me!

  • My maintenance time is dramatically cut back!!

  • My gardens look fantastic with flowers mixed in among my veggies

  • All my companion plants are edible!

I find the most effective companion planting to be trap crops - planting a crop nearby that is MORE attractive to the pests, so they leave the food alone, basically 'sacrificing' that plant for your foods . Brassica's are the main food of the Cabbage White - the main trap crop for them is Nasturtiums. We'll also aim to to confuse the situation by not monocropping and by attracting the good predators!

If you have your brassica's in tidy rows you will likely have them decimated. It's not natures way and you've basically offered up a brassica buffet! Interplanting is the answer so you can confuse the butterflies. Instead they'll end up at the neighbors down the street with the monoculture buffet rows. 🤷‍♀️

Here's what I planted! Note, many of these also help with aphids & I have a whole article here about that! I also had eggshells in my garden to stop the slugs, a friend mentioned that seeing the flashes of white may have deterred some of the butterflies as they are very territorial, so try that too!

1) Nasturtium EVERYWHERE as trap crop! This stuff is a favorite of the Cabbage White! I grew Nasturtium under my Broccolini and the caterpillars didn't keep climbing up the stem, they had a feast down below!

  • Annual. Poke and go then allow to self seed. Vining or Clumping. Flowers and Leaves edible

  • Flower pods look like cool aliens!

  • I love the Tall Single Mix from West Coast Seeds. My greenhouse has 14' long vines wrapping around

  • Trap crop for Aphids too!

  • Cheap and cheerful - 1 plant will cover 4-5x the ground of a typical flower

  • Amazing ground cover/living mulch

  • Most vine like crazy, but they don't have tendrils so don't climb over and choke out other plants.

  • They can be trained up over an archway or up a fence

  • They will tumble out of a planter or hanging basket or cascade down a rock wall. The first picture below is TWO Nasturtium cascading down covering an ugly wooden wall

  • They are a Xeriscape plant, so ideal for a dry spot you want a pop of colour or for everyone that forgets to water their hanging baskets!

  • Can grow in sun or shade. In shade they'll have BIG leaves that can be used for salad rolls (they have a peppery hit!) and in sun they'll have smaller leaves and massive blooms. Use them under your trees or to hide an eyesore!

  • If you have chickens, they'll raise a statue to you. I grow these beside the coop every year and they eat ever bite they can get to (they are a semi protected snack bar). They self-medicate with this anti-worming and naturally antibiotic plant.

2) Mixed greens - I put Beets & Chard with my Brassica's as they are a different plant family and aren't subject to the same pests and can help with the confusion

3) Dill for Confusion & Attracting good guys! - This is a garden powerhouse!

  • Repels cabbage loopers

  • Attracts swallowtail caterpillars, so do NOT remove those, just plant extra dill!

  • Attracts hoverflies and parastic wasps - these will lay larvae in your cabbage white caterpillars - creepy and cool!

  • Fragrant and loved by butterflies

  • Great with your asparagus, corn, cucumbers and lettuce as it will attract the predatory insects that pester these crops

  • Repels spider mites

  • Attracts Aphids, so is a trap crop for them.

  • Plant away from it's 'family' crops such as carrots, fennel, caraway, celery UNLESS using as a trap crap. Can make carrots bitter. Not great with peppers, eggplant, potato.

4) Borage for Confusion & Attracting good guys - Annual. This is really a rockstar! Poke a seed, walk away, not a big fan of transplanting. A must in every yard! Can be large if it has space or you can chop it back and add the leaves to your compost. Edible.

  • Attracts Aphids, they LOVE IT! I would have mass aphid clumps on it I could snip off, although I often left it because the ladybugs & other helpers arrived.

  • Bees love it. I put Borage at each end of my Greenhouse to attract the bees in.

  • Put it near melons, squash and cucumbers that need active pollination

  • It attracts Squash Bugs, so let it get eaten instead of your squash!

  • It helps with Tomato Hornworm, by attracting the beneficial insects that kill it, so I have it planted hear my tomatoes! Seeing a hornworm hosting the larvea of Braconid Wasps is a thing to behold!! NEVER remove a hormworm in this state

  • Said to Improve flavor and growth of strawberries

  • My chickens love it, so I plant it in their yard and protect it by a tomato cage so they can't scratch it out.

  • It tastes delicious (like cucumber) and the flowers are beautiful in your food! (not for pregnant or nursing women)

  • Rich in minerals and vitamins for you or your soil!

  • Deer Proof

  • It has fantastic fleshy nutrient-filled leaves that make great compost or mulch

Below it's growing in a pest attracting mound - Nasturtium & Borage

5 - Calendula (Pot Marigold) - Self Sowing Annual. Gorgeous edible petals

Bright cheery masses of yellow or orange flowers all summer long.

  • Repels cabbage looper.

  • Attracts Ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies - The good bugs you want!

  • Attracts aphids, thrips and whiteflies. The pests you don't want! Better for them to eat the Calendula than your greens!

  • Grows well in the cool spring and fall, and withstands frosts, mine flowered right up to Nov.

  • Bees & butterflies love it

  • Makes amazing salves and oils for skin ailments

  • Can be used to color rice, frosting, etc

This is the one I love the most, each stage of the flower looks different & the underside of the petals are a gorgeous burgundy, it's organic & makes a great cut flower.

If you found this information helpful, please share. The more of us that use natural methods to handle our pests the more that bees and good bugs will flourish!

A few more articles and posts you may find helpful for natural gardening

Happy Growing, Cooking & Eating!

XO Dana K

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