Green Thumbs: The trouble with cabbage loopers (or, a not-so green thumb moment)

Well, I know I said I would do a post about composting next in this series, but I decided a post about the dastardly cabbage looper was more appropriate. This is also a post in which I admit my failures as a gardener. Can’t win ’em all!

The cabbage looper is a caterpillar that becomes a moth after metamorphosis and has a been a royal pain in the butt for me this summer. Cabbage loopers love plants in the cabbage (brassica) family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and collard greens. They will also go after tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers. The little green caterpillars eat holes in the leaves and keep the cabbages (in my case) from heading well. The moths lay nasty little eggs in slimy clutches in the cabbage, which of course spawn more cabbage loopers and drive me batty (not too mention the disappointment I feel at having my future sauerkraut literally nipped in the bud!).

We first noticed the problem about a month ago. The cabbage leaves were looking pretty chewed like this:

I picked around near the head and pulled green caterpillar after green caterpillar out of the cabbages. Despite my best efforts to nab the caterpillars and squish them, we still have had lots of the moths, which can be brown or white. The moths lay the nasty eggs I mentioned before. Here’s a couple of caterpillars AND eggs in my cabbages (and here’s my sigh of defeat):

Disgusting, no?

So what do you do about cabbage loopers? I’m running an organic operation in my garden so insecticides are out of the question (and who wants all those chemicals on their food, anyway?). My mother said to try putting chili powder on the cabbages. My mother-in-law recommended pouring milk on them. A farmer friend said they catch the moths in butterfly nets and squish the offending bugs. Another farmer friend said to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a bacterium that targets insects (it doesn’t affect people), though using anything like that is a bit sketchy she said, and I agree. She also swats the moths with ping pong rackets. This sounds the most fun, bounding about the garden with a ping pong racket of mothy death, plus the fringe benefit of actually feeling like you made a difference in the moth population’s demise.

Here’s hoping your cabbages are looper-free!

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Green joy

Here’s a much-needed garden update post. I’m proud to report that despite the hail a few weeks ago, everything appears to have rebounded and is growing away. We’re supposed to have a string of hot days (well, hot for Montana: 80s and 90s) and that means big growth days! Here’s a photo of the garden from the June 19 post about the garden:

And here’s from today:

Clearly things have been happening out there! A few of the stalks of corn have the beginnings of ears, we’re taking regular cuttings off the herbs, the Asteraceaes and the Chenopodiaceaes (Gotta keep up my plant biology terminology! But for those of you not trying to keep up your plant biology terminology: lettuces and chards.) are going gangbusters, you can hear the beans growing, there’ll be flowers on the squash any day, and the strawberries are turning red. And of course, the weeds are constantly threatening hostile takeover.

My tomato plants are pretty pathetic looking. They got thrashed by the hail storms. One of my neighbors has beautimus-looking tomatoes. I have Solanum lycopersicum (woo plant biology!) envy. However, despite their ragged appearance, there are several little tomatoes on each plant. We won’t have much of a tomato harvest, but will we have one at least!

My red romaine lettuce looks great. This is the second year I’ve used seeds from Baker Creek, and I’m again pleased with the results. Isn’t that some great color? We’ll be doing our first harvest tomorrow! Exciting!

Here are my snow peas. They’re just getting big enough to need to climb the trellis. Yesterday I put out some twine for the vines to climb onto the piece of old wooden fencing we found in the field that we’re using as the trellis.

This is my first time growing onions, but clearly they don’t need much assistance! I planted the onions from sets I got from my mother-in-law and they’re thriving. They’re nearly a foot tall! Here’s hoping the onion bulbs below look as great as the shoots above.

In an effort to beat back the weeds and put some nutrients back into the soil, we’ve planted a lot of buckwheat in various places around the garden. In the above photo, it’s the lush looking stuff with heart-shaped leaves to the right of and behind the cabbage. Buckwheat is a great smother crop, and, if turned under once it flowers, makes a nice green manure. So far, we’re pleased with the results! So much so that we recently seeded a bunch more around the garden to help with the weed problem (darn thistles, grass, and bunches of unnamed nasties!).

Here’s those beans I was talking about earlier. They’re doing great. Totally exceeding my expectations. Of course, I didn’t expect them to do anything at all, but then again my problem last year with them was more likely the climate than the beans. I’m glad they’ve decided to be the all-stars of the garden this year (so far). I’m not kidding when I say you can practically hear these guys growing.

My husband and I are very pleased with the garden’s progress. And impatient too, because we want to start harvesting! Good thing the romaine is ready.

Renovation of the world

“There is, indeed, something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual renovation of the world, and the new display of the treasures of nature.” – Samuel Johnson

A week ago, before planting the transplants I bought, my husband built up five more beds in the garden.

We ran out of the horse manure compost that a friend with a horseback riding operation gave us, so we used organic compost from a local gardening shop in these beds. We laid a thin layer of compost, and I added some organic bone meal, too. I did this, because, as mentioned before, my soil test showed that the garden’s soil was lacking in nitrogen and phosphorus.

Here’s yours truly spreading the compost. Yes, I am wearing a fleece. Why? Because up here at 48 degrees (latitude), that’s also been the high temperature for a while. We have glorious autumns here, but cold and wet springs. In fact, there’s a winter weather advisory in our area today. Sigh.

Here’s the garden as it was about a week ago after planting the transplants. I apologize I haven’t posted this sooner, but I’ve been busy, ya know. The garden looks much the same now, except the lettuces and carrots are coming up, as are the onion sets and the buckwheat. And the weeds. Oh the weeds. I weeded for half an hour yesterday and got one half of one bed done. Well, that’s what I get for not weeding for a week: Now I get to spend my free time weeding!

Of the transplants I planted: I planted a pumpkin, a zucchini, a squash, two tomatoes, a pepper, mint, cilantro, shallots – all of these from the local Terrapin Farm. From a local greenhouse, I planted corn, more squash, cucumbers, cabbage, lavender, parsley, basil, oregano, and dill.

From seed I planted spinach, red romaine, rainbow chard, ruby red chard, carrots, acorn squash, cucumbers, snow peas, blue lake bush beans, onion (from sets, technically), sunflowers, and a bunch of wildflowers on the outside perimeter.

Here’s the herb garden we planted. In it there’s parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, lavender, mint, and dill. We love to use fresh herbs in our cooking.

Here are the corn transplants. I will not be doing these again. At least not transplants that are this big. These transplants have taken an absolute beating with wind and rain, and yesterday, hail. They don’t have the established roots they need to stand up to the beatings, which, looking at the weather report, will continue until morale improves. Lesson learned.

And yesterday it hailed for fifteen minutes. The hail was about blueberry size. Big enough to cause some damage. I think I lost a squash plant, probably some of the corn, and time will tell what else I’ve lost once the lake in the middle of the garden recedes. We also had a bird get in the house, trying to escape the hail (we had the door open because we were standing on the porch watching the hail come down). It flapped around inside for a few minutes until we could get it out. Hopefully the hail didn’t kill it! It is supposed to rain more today (and snow up high). The picture below shows the hail. And the puddles full of hail that are probably three or four inches deep.

It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days. Hopefully, if everything didn’t drown, I’ll see some real growth out there!