Thursday, September 9, 2010

Garden Pests and Harvesting Lettuce

I have a caterpillar problem in my garden! They are known as cabbage worms and are one of the most common insects to attack veggie gardens in Canada, United States and Mexico. There are 3 different types of these caterpillars and I have the “Imported Cabbageworm.” They are velvety to the touch, bright green, a thin yellow stripe down its back and it produces green droppings on the plants as it eats.

Where did they come from?The cabbage white butterfly! You will see them often in early spring to late fall. They are easy to detect because they don’t particularly fly, rather float with the air currents. They typically are white with a black spot on each wing.

What do they eat?
Everything! Well almost…. They especially love the brassica family, everything from broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and leafy greens.

How do I know I have them?
I realized I had some sort of pest because there were holes chewed through my lettuce, kale and broccoli. Some of the leaves were even skeletalized! Often the holes were chewed from the center of the leaf and in some cases whole leaves were being eaten. Look for them on the back of the plant leaves. Once they grew larger, I found them sitting on the top of the leaves. The larger ones also produce large green droppings, so you will realize that you have a caterpillar somewhere on that plant.

How do I remove this pest from my organic garden?
Basically check your plants often. Since I already have them, I am now checking the back of the leaves every afternoon/evening when they most commonly eat. I then remove them from our garden. I also check for tiny white specks on the back of the leaves, which are most likely the eggs. I will probably do this for the next 2 weeks. I have a small garden so this can be seriously damaging to our production. On the other hand, I have only found about 10 small caterpillars (no bigger than the width of my pinky finger) and 2 larger ones (about 1 inch long), so I consider myself lucky in terms of how bad it can get.

Another old gardener’s trick that I learned from a dear friend of mine with 70 years of gardening experience said to sprinkle flour on your plants. Do this after it rains or in the morning after a dew. The caterpillars will eat the flour, become bloated and die.

If you do have a serious problem with them you could purchase bacillus thuringiensis from a garden center. It is a biological/naturally occurring bacterial organism that is non-toxic to humans and animals, and is often used by organic growers. Caterpillars are just repulsed by it! You can purchase it in a dust or spray.

How can I prevent it from happening?

Since this was my first time planting a garden in this location, I did not realize how avid the white butterfly was here. Next time I will probably put floating row covers, or nylon netting overtop of my plants. This would prevent the butterfly from being able to lay eggs on my plants in the first place. Also rotating your crops is a good idea every season.

I hope our garden will survive this infestation. It’s pretty far along in terms of its growth, but one of our kale plants has been hit pretty hard. Once these caterpillars eat most of the leaves the plants cannot photosynthesize and eventually die. I’m going to try the ole sprinkle flour on the plants trick and see if this works. Wish me luck!

Harvesting Lettuce
In other news I was able to harvest some of our “cut and come again” butter lettuce! Not that you want to hear about food after reading all about caterpillars, but the lettuce was delicious, soft and buttery :) A couple tips for picking this "cut and come again" lettuce:

~Always pick the outer leaves of the plant. They are usually the biggest and more mature.

~Once you think a leaf is big enough to eat, then pick it! This will encourage more growth from your lettuce.

~Pull the leaf downwards to harvest the leaf, opposed to pulling on the leaf.

~If you do end up cutting most or all of the lettuce leaves then leave about an inch of growth on the plant and it should grow back again in time.

~I usually get about 4-6 harvests off of each lettuce plant through out the season. The lettuce leaves usually keep in the fridge for about 3 days. They are so young and tender that we usually eat them before they get a chance to make their way into our fridge.

I hope you harvest lots of your own lettuce, rather than deal with pesky bugs in your garden! Happy Veggie Gardening to you all :)


Pam said...

That's weird I looked down the other day on my shirt and there was one of these crazy things and we don't have a garden...just! Hope you save your garden okay! Hugs!

Maggie said...

Oh that is weird! Fuzzy lil guys :P I think the flour trick worked, except now it looks like it snowed in our garden. Nothing was eaten today though and I couldn't find one caterpillar! Yay I hope it worked :) *hugs* xoxo

Mary @ Bites and Bliss said...

Awwe that's terrible they're tearing up your garden! Hopefuly you can get rid of them. Lil mosters for such cute things. :P

blessedmama said...

Oh, how I feel your pain! We were inundated with those last year, and this year we've got them as well as the harlequin stink bug beetle. Gross. We've used praying mantises and ladybugs, picking them off by hand, and an organic spray. I wish you the best!

Maggie said...

Mary- I know what you mean, they are cute. I bet that's their defense..i'm cute don't hurt me. Mwhhaha I'll eat all your plants though! hehe

Maggie said...

Blessedmama- Ahh you feel my pain and frustration. That must have been so hard to deal with in your garden. That's awesome you used natural enemies to remove them from your garden (ie/mantisis, lady bugs).
They sure are a time consuming pest to remove from the garden. The flour trick I used seemed to work. I don't see any new damage or any of the caterpillars in sight, but ya never know.

Elle ( said...

Sorry about the moths! I have the awful squash vine borer. It has killed my squash plants off last year and this year. I'm hoping to find a way to get rid of it so I can have plenty of zucchini next year!

Maggie said...

Awww Elle that sucks :( Sorry to hear about that. Yeah I guess pests are part of gardening *sighs* :P

I found a couple more caterpillars today, so still have em too. Just hope the plants can survive :)

SuccessfullySlim said...

Thanks for those caterpillar tips, I hadn't heard the one about the flour before. It's certainly disappointing when you go out to the garden to pick some lovely fresh greens for a healthy meal and they've all been eaten!

Anonymous said...

hey your blog design is very nice, neat and fresh and with updated content, make people feel peace and I always enjoy browsing your site.

- Norman

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem with my lettuce. If it is bugs, is it still safe to eat??

Jenny said...

Can I wash my lettuce in a solution that will kill the little caterpillars and make them drop off the leaves.