Sunday, July 12, 2009

First Came The Rain...Then the Bugs

I knew this day would come. I had been waiting for it for some time. Dreading it even. Tried to prepare for it. But after 3 weeks of rain they are finally here- bugs, pests and other such creepy crawlies.

It all started with the broccoli plants. I had heard a lot of nasty horror stories about growing broccoli and how hard it can be. My mom had tales of broccoli plants littered with green worms and said she had to soak the harvested heads in salted water to weed them out. Ewww. However, I gave my kids the choice of vegetables they wanted to grow in their square foot box, and broccoli is my daughter's favourite. I gave her warnings that we would try this out, but no guarantees.

Everything was coming along and growing just fine, until one morning about 2 weeks into what we now refer to as the 'rainy season', I went out to do my daily check of things. I noticed that the leaves suddenly had a number of holes in them. I looked at them but didn't see anything at first. Looked a little closer and hold on- worms. They were pretty tiny, thin and maybe a cm long and were very hard to spot as they were exactly the same colour as the broccoli plant. I immediately picked off and squished as many as I could see, then went to do some research. I think what I had here was the Cabbage Worm.

The Cabbage Worm is apparently a common garden pest that affects plants in the cabbage family like cabbage (as the name suggests), brussell sprouts, kale, and broccoli. At this point, I thought that I had caught it in time and continued to pick off any worms I encountered over the next couple of days. Unfortunately, the appearance of the cabbage worm also coincided with my vacation and the garden was left unattended for a week.

When I returned, the first thing I did was inspect the garden. Once again, on first glance, the broccoli looked ok. Then I saw them. And this time they were bigger. They were not just on the leaves, but also in and under the broccoli heads. Now, I'm not all that squeamish when it comes to bugs. Little flying, spidery, and general buggy things I can usually handle. This particular species was pretty nasty looking. First of all, they were the same colour as the plants themselves so very hard to spot. I had visions of opening my mouth to take a bite of broccoli and getting something juicy instead. I didn't take any photos of them, but they looked like this picture I found (except my broccoli leaves are the same colour as the worm):

So to abort or not? I posed this question to my daughter and she immediately was horrified. Not by the worms- I didn't actually show her those as I didn't want to turn her off broccoli (I think she was picturing your every day earth worm, which she has no problem with). She was horrified that I was considering digging the broccoli up and planting something else.

I reluctantly agreed to soldier on.

What was needed was more research and a plan of attack. It turns out the cabbage worm comes from the eggs laid by those everyday white moths you see flying around everywhere in summer. Once they land on your plant. Boom. Eggs are laid and soon you have those nasty little things eating up the plant. I came up with a plan of attack based on a number of different organic methods I found in my research.

1. Daily Inspection of the plants and picking off any worms you see. Check. Already doing that.

2. Cover the plants with a row cloth so the moth's can't lay their eggs. No problem. Had some of the gauzy fabric purchased previously at Lee Valley Tools so I cut off some pieces and covered those broccoli plants up. They now kind of look like little marshmallows:

3. Spray with canned or spoiled milk. I found this idea somewhere obscure I can't find it again to save as a reference. I figured it was worth a try.

Two weeks into my battle against the cabbage worm and so far so good! I had about 3-4 days of picking off one or two worms, but for the last 5 days I haven't found anything and the plants continue to grow!

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