From caterpillar pest to welcome butterfly visitor, 11-05-15

These critters look soft and pettable. Yet, cabbageworms are hungry. Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record
This picture has not been doctored, nor were any of the cabbageworms moved for the photos. Can you spot four? Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record

My little winter garden was on a roll. Last spring the Handsome Woodsman filled a black plastic truck bed liner with soil.

The planting area is about 4-feet by 4-feet and sloped on one side for drainage.

Brilliant. Simple. Definitely not elegant.

Recently I planted seeds of spinach, lettuce and Tuscan baby kale.

What fun.

As is often the case, I noticed some holes in the leaves of the kale. No biggee. Maybe earwigs.

A little bug spittle wouldn’t hurt, and could be washed away at harvest.

Then it rained. Several days passed with no reason to fuss with the plants.


When I checked this week, the kale had been nibbled down to bare stalks.

What the heck?

Another row was only partially munched.

I looked more closely and found my cruciferous culprit, an inch-long caterpillar the exact color as the kale leaves.

Why was the worm the same color? Because the tubular creature was filled with kale.

The more I looked, the more worms I found. Larger worms, smaller worms, worms hidden in the crease of the leaves.

Like many things — dragonflies, credit card fraud and gray hairs — you don’t notice camouflaged caterpillars unless you are really looking for them.

The first guess would be cabbage loopers. Yet, the critters on my kale did not have the distinctive arched-spine of the familiar looper.

Also, my worms were soft, like velvet. I know because I touched 32 of them Tuesday and seven more later this week.

After a few clicks though the University of California Integrated Pest Management website, I tracked down the imported cabbageworm fact sheet:

The worms help themselves to your cabbage-family plants before crawling away to become a chrysalis. Later, a small white butterfly emerges. The undersides of the wings are a light yellow.

You can kill the worms with Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria that causes caterpillars to stop eating and later die. Read more about Bt here, <URL destination=””>

</URL>Spinosad is another chemical suggested. A fact sheet from Oregon State University a warning is to avoid spraying in the daytime and when plants are in bloom, because Spinosad can be toxic to bees if the material is still wet.


Part of the reason chemicals are bad in the hands of home gardeners is that we spend $10 on a secret weapon and spray it like it’s soapy water. These potions come with a giant book of instructions, usually in very small print, which most of us never read.

Then I thought about the orange butterflies I loved so much this summer.

Those creatures devoured the passion vine in my neighbor’s yard.

I had planned to buy three or more passion vines next year, hoping those orange butterflies would return.

Yet, here I am smashing 39 (and hopefully more) green caterpillars that dared to nibble on my kale.

It makes very little sense except that I wanted to eat the kale. Also, the passion vine was in my neighbor’s yard.

Many people say that a weed is merely a plant growing somewhere the gardeners wishes it was not. Pests, apparently, are insects that eat plants in our own yards.

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