Fighting the War Against Cabbage Worms

How I'm fighting the war on cabbage worms. Week 2 of the Self-Reliant Challange #selfreliantchallenge

I have a confession to make: I've been a struggling gardener since moving to Oklahoma almost 15 years ago. The soil dirt here is challenging. The weeds are prolific. Summer is unbearably hot and dry. And I really didn't know much about gardening when we moved here (I could grow great tomatoes though!).

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But I jumped in with both feet. I really wanted (and still want) to grow a large portion of the food on our table. I had a lot more failures than successes, but I'm persistent stubborn and I kept trying. Each year I try to grow something new, or a new way to grow something familiar - last year it was potatoes in a trash can and sweet potatoes in a sink.

I grew cabbage for the first time two years ago. Hubby loves it and I don't hate it; while I'm not crazy about stuffed cabbage, I do like cabbage in soup and other dishes. But I've had to battle cabbage worms (and squash bugs too, but that's another problem that needs a solution). I wasn't even going to plant cabbage this year because of the cabbage worm problem.

Garden pests vs self-reliant gardening: how I'm fighting cabbage worms. #selfreliantchallenge
Even though I picked them off every day, you can see the damage 
done by the cabbage worms. (And yes, I planted the cabbage too close together.)

Those cute little white butterflies that flit around your garden in spring? They're laying their eggs on your plants. Eggs that will hatch into cabbage worms. Not so cute anymore, are they?

Eventually those eggs will hatch and become small caterpillars that munch on your broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, collards, kale, and mustard greens. These "cabbage worms" chew into the heads of cabbage and other crops, leaving unsightly holes and tunnels. Their droppings stain the leaves - I'm not eating that. Left untreated, a large infestation of cabbage worms can kill your plants.

If you're not checking under the leaves for pests, you'll eventually find holes in the leaves as evidence of your infestation. That's what happened to me. I tried picking off the little caterpillars several times a day (that's a real chore!) and then tried a homemade garlic spray that was effective to a point, but I still had to pick pests off the plants. Some fell off before I could grab them, so they escaped and continued chewing on my plants.

We used to have one of those pop-up screen houses - the kind that is "easy to set up." Don't let that advertising fool you, they are NOT easy to put up. So a couple of years ago we gave up and threw it out. Actually, I don't think any of it went in the dumpster: the solid parts of the fabric have been used as a tarp, and I saved the mesh sections because I knew someday I'd have a use for them.

And now I do!

Growing cabbage under netting to prevent cabbage worms. #selfreliantchallenge

This spring I used some scraps of wire fencing to form a "tunnel" over the cabbage seedlings when I planted them. The mesh was spread over the tunnel and secured with clothespins, and I used the poles from the screen house to hold the mesh against the ground along the sides and ends. I was very careful to bend any sharp ends of the fencing downwards so it won't snag the mesh.

I'm hoping that those little white butterflies won't be able to lay their eggs on my cabbages, which will mean no cabbage worms!

Growing cabbage in a low tunnel to fight cabbage worms. #selfreliantchallenge

This mesh is perfect for keeping the butterflies (or are they really moths?) out while letting in sunlight and rain, but if you don't happen to have a discarded screen house to cut apart, go buy some nylon netting from the fabric store. Buy the cheap stuff; you don't need bridal tulle for this project. The nylon netting was less than a dollar a yard in my local fabric store last week.

There are three different kinds of fencing that form my tunnel. You know I'm a big believer in using what you have.

Fighting garden pests by growing under low tunnels. #selfreliantchallenge #cabbageworms

My plan for taller cabbage-worm-prone plants such as broccoli? Maybe I'll buy mesh pop-up laundry hampers and invert them over the plants. Or use that nylon netting I mentioned earlier and somehow make a larger structure to cover the plants.

We all have a gardening problem of some kind; what's yours? Rabbits or deer? Cabbage worms or another pest? I challenge you to do some research and brainstorm a way to prevent or fix the problem. Experiment and see if it works - and if it doesn't work, try something else. Leave a comment at the end of this post and tell me about your biggest gardening obstacle.

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How I'm fighting cabbage worms this year; self-reliant gardening, fighting garden pests. #selfreliantchallenge