October 3, 2012

A Tale of Two Cabbages

Cabbage #1, protected from the miserable cabbage butterfly with an upside down soil sifter, and therefore lovely and unblemished:

Beautiful, blemish-free cabbage plant

Cabbage #2, not protected and therefore partially devoured by the miserable cabbage butterfly's offspring:

Cabbage that provided lunch for the caterpillars

As you can see, my method of hand-picking cabbage butterfly caterpillars off my cole crops and swiping eggs off the leaves doesn't work so well when I take a day or two off from the hunt. I did finally get one of the offending butterflies to stop moving for more than a split second, though, so I have some nice closeups for you.

Cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae)

Cabbage butterfly on a squash plant

I am on my way to outsmarting these little devils, though. Last month, Mr. English made me a frame wrapped with floating row cover material that fits perfectly over my seeding trays. That will at least prevent the butterflies from accessing my seedlings. 

Floating row cover frame fits over seedling trays

The next step will be outfitting a couple of our 4 x 8 foot raised beds with PVC hoops, so I can clip floating row cover over an entire bed. This year, I made the mistake of planting the broccoli and cabbage in a triangular bed, which is not a good shape for making a row cover frame. I tried draping the row cover directly over the plants, but that didn't work well. I had apparently missed a few eggs before I draped the transplants; the eggs hatched, and since I couldn't easily monitor the plants under the row cover, the caterpillars munched away quite a bit before I lifted the fabric and discovered the damage. Grrrrr! Next year my transplants will go directly from a protected seedling flat to a 4 x 8 bed protected with a hoop frame. Maybe this is just a bad year for the cabbage butterfly, but I don't see any other way to successfully grow cole crops around here.

Now that I've honed my cabbage butterfly hunting skills, maybe I can put them to good use and turn this situation to my advantage after all. For over thirty years, Art Shapiro, a biology professor and butterfly expert at UC Davis, has offered a pitcher of beer to the person bringing in the first Cabbage White butterfly of the year in the Davis-Sacramento area. I think he's won the prize himself every year, actually, so the odds are against me, but I will definitely be on the look out come January!

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful butterfly.
    Good luck with your efforts; hope you win.