I have not written about garden insects much this year like I did last year. Largely it is because last year's menaces did not repeat this year. I guess the Tomato Hornworms really were killed by the braconid wasps and the Blister Beetles really were chased away by their dislike of the horseradish plants. In both cases nature ran its course and I benefited from natural organic remedies without using any unnatural chemicals or poisons.
I really do believe in gardening organically. There is no room in my garden for chemical pesticides or fertilizers - Period. However, I'm not one to preach about it and I don't pretend that if you stay organic you will never have any problems. Sometimes it is quite the opposite and you have to be willing to lose an entire crop at times. That was the story this year with my broccoli.
Cabbage worms by the dozens destroyed all of my Spring broccoli, and it looks like my Fall broccoli will suffer the same fate. We only planted two plants this spring since we had so much last year that we couldn't eat it all. Since there were only two plants, I thought I could control the worms by hand-picking every day. After all, if you've ever looked up what to do about insects in an organic gardening book, most of the time it says to simply had pick them and destroy. This seemed easy at first because many of the worms are large and easy to see.
Of course, hand picking them all is easier said than done! The problem is that they start out so small and grow so fast. They are also very good at hiding right in front of you. Here's an example; how many cabbage worms do you think are on these two plants?
Would you believe 15? I know that it is too hard to tell from a little picture so lets zoom in and look at only 1 plant.
Now how many do you see? Seven, right? Does this help you see them?
And this picture was taken after I had already removed five or six worms! I thought I was finished until I looked closer.
Notice that I'm counting one that I already squashed on the raised bed wood on the lower left. I know it is a bit gross to discuss, but it was very interesting to see what happened when I distingished the worms in this way. As soon as I would kill a worm on the wood, an ant would come along and take the body.
It was fascinating to watch. Every cabbage worm carcass was dutifully carried away, each by a single ant.
That is a good illustration as to why I don't want to spray poisons on the plants to kill the pest insects. In this case, the spray would have killed these ants too. Chemical pesticides are not only bad for us to consume, but they kill or drive away earthworms and beneficial insects. To me, even though I lost this battle and got no fresh broccoli, it is worth it to maintain a safe and healthy soil and micro-climate.
As for the Fall broccoli, they too are infested with cabbage worms. Usually Fall broccoli is safe from the cabbage butterfly and worm but this year it is still hot in October - a record high 90 degrees as I write this! Next year I will cover all of my brassicas with poly-spun row covers to keep out the butterflies. This year I will continue to fight a losing battle and keep hand-picking the worms. At least it feeds the ants I guess.
It's really too bad that I have to kill these worms. They are actually kind of cute.
What am I saying?! They are garden pests and they are killing MY organic broccoli! That is a punishable offense indeed.