Your backyard kitchen garden is home to several plant and animal lives. Most of them co-exist by maintaining symbiotic relationships among themselves. But that’s not always the case. No matter how fortified your farm is, you will always find a few innocent looking creatures ruining your vegetables.
One of the main culprit responsible for eating up your vegetables before you do is the cabbage worm. Let’s get to know them a little better and how we can get rid of cabbage worms.
Cabbage Worms: Introduction and Identification
Cabbage worms are the most common pests you will encounter in your vegetable garden.
Their favorite menu includes the cruciferous vegetables from the Brassica family that includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard, kale, and similar others.
If you see holes in the leaves of these vegetables, that’s definitely cabbage worms.
Their lifecycle start with the female cabbage butterfly laying eggs on the underside of the vegetable leaves. The eggs normally hatch within two to three weeks.
You can identify cabbage worms as green, fuzzy worms with subtle black or yellow stripes on them.
The larvae can grow up to 1.25 inches.
They are extremely voracious and start feeding on the host plants, chewing the leaves, and eventually taking over the cabbage heads.
Cabbage worms conceal and camouflage themselves so well that you won’t know about their presence until you notice the first signs of damage to the plant.
You can also trace them with the fecal matter or frass they leave on the leaves.
Adult cabbage white butterflies aren’t much of a problem as they feed on flower nectar.
How To Prevent Cabbage Worms
Now that we know what and where to look for cabbage worms, let’s find out some of the best ways to prevent them.
Using Floating Row Covers
The ideal way to prevent cabbage worms is by making it impossible for the adult butterflies to lay eggs on plants.
You can create a barrier around vegetables by using floating covers during initial plantation.
Make the rows high enough so that they don’t hinder the growth of plants.
Refer to the seed packets or professional farmers to find the optimum height of plants. Lightweight nylon nets also do the job.
This method is effective if used before the first signs of worm infestation occur.
Check both sides of the leaves for damages and get rid of any eggs or larvae.
Working With Natural Predators
Get the natural predators (birds and insects) to work for you. Cabbage worms are prey to many other insects like spiders, beetles, and most notably, the trichogramma wasps.
Trichogramma wasps parasitize the butterfly eggs, where their larvae develop early and eat the cabbage worm eggs even before they hatch.
They live for pollen and nectar. Try planting plants like alliums, zinnias, and sweet alyssum, and they will take care of the rest.
Ducks really love hunting cabbage worms. Give them a chance once the plant has matured and see how it goes.
Make sure that you haven’t used any chemical fertilizer on the plants that might affect the health of the predators.
Cabbage may be the worms’ best meal, but there are other plants that act as a deterrent for many butterflies and moths.
Plants like thyme, marigolds, and dill work the best to repel cabbage butterflies away from your garden.
However, they are not 100 percent effective to keep them away.
Even with companion plants around your cabbage, you will still end up with worms eating up your vegetables.
Another solution to this problem is to distract the butterflies away from cabbage with mustard plants.
Once they have done their job on mustard, you can eliminate them and save your garden.
Growing Red Cabbage
Green cabbage provide excellent camouflage to the tiny green worms.
They will go unnoticed until they have taken over the vegetables.
You can turn the tables by growing red cabbage so that you can hunt them down easily without calling Sherlock Holmes for help.
Spraying Neem or Tansy Oil
Neem and tansy oil act as natural pesticide to kill soft-bodied worms in your garden.
Spraying these oils on plants will also repel the moths and butterflies from laying eggs on cabbage.
It may not prevent the worms completely, but it will at least break their life cycle to some extent.
Getting Rid Of Cabbage Worms
Despite everything that you do to prevent cabbage worms, few will inevitably make their way to the plants.
Do not panic. You can still get rid of them before they do damage to your vegetables.
Manual Removal Of Worms
This is the most basic method of getting rid of cabbage eggs and worms once they appear on the leaves.
Get down on your knees and pick them off one-by-one. It takes time, but is quite effective, obviously!
You can feed those green worms to your chicken in the backyard. They love it. Or, just throw them into a bucket of soap water.
Using Organic Spray
Organic pesticides like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) are very effective against several types of worms and pests known for infesting the farm.
It is a microbe naturally found in the soil, therefore harmless against human, animals and birds.
It is best to spray Bt every couple of weeks to control the growth and development of larvae on the plants.
If you still find a few stray worms on your cabbage, you can simply wash them away.
This is where it gets interesting. Sprinkle cornmeal generously over wet cabbage leaves and wait for the hungry worms to gulp on them.
They will start swelling and eventually die. Problem solved!
Prevention is always better than cure. Do not wait for the first signs of cabbage worms to appear. It might be too late by then.
A little bit of preparation and proactivity goes a long way so that you can enjoy your hard grown vegetables with your family.
Last but not least, we recommend you to opt for organic and natural remedies that are safe for human, animals, and environment.
Stay away from chemical pesticides unless absolutely necessary.