Collards, Kale, Small White Cabbage Butterfly – Oh My!

With regular personal gardening sessions from the ‘beyond-green-thumb-talent’ at Victory Gardens, I’ve learned the growing part of an edible garden, and am knee deep into the harvesting part. Once harvesting starts so does the regular maintenance and nurturing of the plants that are providing food. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for pests that want to gobble up your greens while you’re away doing other things.

The Small White Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae) has been visiting my garden on a daily basis. I used to praise her random appearance, “Oh, look she likes to visit the collards, how sweet!”

White Cabbage Butterfly

Not quite so sweet, I have discovered. The offspring from the Small White Cabbage Butterfly is called an imported cabbageworm – meaning it’s not native to North America, and it does major damage to cabbage, kale, collards, and others from the Brassica (mustard) family.

“It was accidentally introduced to Québec, Canada around 1860 and spread rapidly throughout North America.”[1]

First, the lovely Small White Cabbage Butterfly visits the leaves and lays her eggs. This is what the egg sack looks like (see below; with size reference to a penny).

Egg from Small White Cabbage Butterfly

If you don’t pick it off, then it will mature into a green cabbage worm (below). At most stages of the life cycle it is very difficult to see the cabbageworm on the underside of the leaves. Their size and colouring is their self-defence. When you see the amount of damage one of these cabbageworm’s is capable, you would expect them to be very large (like the one pictured below). This is not always the case, so narrow your gaze and practice looking for very small.

Green Cabbageworm

The image below shows how the cabbageworm, as it begins to pupate, has spun a silk pad, attaching himself to the underside of the collard leaf. In this state it is very difficult to see the metamorphosis.

KAT_8913

Luckily, I get unsolicited pest control from the birds that visit my garden. Lately, I’ve noticed more birds hanging around my Kale and Swiss Chard pots. I was wondering what they were doing…? Turns out they are my best helpers. It’s nice working cooperatively.

KAT_8923

Two Birds: Pest Control

Though I appreciate the beauty of all beings, I can be found discouraging the Small White Cabbage Butterfly from landing on my cruciferous vegetables. However, the Small White Cabbage Butterfly does do her fair share of pollinating various flowers. There is always good with the bad. And maybe the point is to understand, like in all areas, that balance is key.

It is definitely a challenge to garden compassionately. I don’t like the idea of drowning insect pests because they all have a role to play in the balance of nature. And what to do with the eggs and cabbageworms that I remove from these leaves? I decided that I might collect them in a bucket and deliver them once a week to the chickens at a local farm, (who provide us with nourishing eggs), unless the birds from my garden get their beaks on them first.

Visit Wikipedia to read in greater detail and to see excellent photographs of the life cycle here. or here.

[1] Howe, William H.; editor, coordinating; al.], illustrator & twenty contributors—contributors, David L. Bauer … [et (1975). The Butterflies of North America. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

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