Cabbage white caterpillars (and holes in your plants)

Sure, those white butterflies fluttering around look nice. But their caterpillars will eat every last leaf of your kale plants if you let them. 

I'll walk you through how to protect your plants from cabbage whites:

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Holes in my precious plants

The dreaded cabbage white

The cabbage white is notorious: its green and black-yellow caterpillars will eat huge holes in the leaves of your vegetables. If you listen closely, you can hear them munching away.

As the name suggests, they're white butterflies that love plants in the cabbage family. Especially kale.
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The cabbage white
Small cabbage white caterpillars prefer young leaves. But the larger ones will eat older leaves too.

Nothing is safe. That's why I put so few kale plants in my garden, except for dino kale.

But sometimes I even discover cabbage white caterpillars on my beautiful lettuce heads: grrrrrrr.

You only know that something's wrong when the holes appear. The caterpillars themselves are not easy to spot, especially the green ones:
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No caterpillars here. Oh wait, what's that?

How do you prevent caterpillar attacks?

There's only one thing that really helps: putting insect netting or a crop cover over your kale plants.

Our crop cover, the MM-Muts, works perfectly:
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The MM-Muts keeps out butterflies
The MM-muts prevents butterflies from laying their eggs.

This is how Margriet does it:
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Margriet's butterfly cage
She wrote:

"Last year the butterflies ate my dino kale really early in the season. I hope I can outsmart them this year.

I made a 'cage' that fits perfectly in one patch (30x30cm). First I folded some mesh netting into a cube. Then I attached a square piece of netting onto the top with pegs. So I can still get in, but the butterflies can't.

Hope it works! Haha, eat
that, butterflies!"

Create a diversion

I put Indian cress in my garden every year:
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Indian cress
Butterflies like to lay their eggs on these leaves too.

So, if they go for the Indian cress, there's a chance that they'll leave your kale plants alone.

I read somewhere that you can also put white eggshells between the plants.

The white color tricks the butterfly into thinking that the plants are already occupied, so it goes looking for another spot.

You can also deter them with strongly scented plant extracts like sage, rosemary, mint, marjoram, thyme, onion, or garlic. Or use those same plants fresh and put them among your vegetables or in an MM-Mini next to your garden box.
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MM-mini with sage, rosemary, and thyme nearby
Give it a try, why not?

Pepper and garlic deterrents

Another tip: give your black pepper shaker a really good shake over your dino kale. It won't harm your plants, and butterflies hate it. Snails too.

But choose your pepper wisely: when I ran out of black pepper, I sprinkled pure cayenne over my plants. It knocked my little basil plants out. 

So, stick to powdered white or black pepper.

Using a garlic spray also helps.

The one spray that does it all

A homemade garlic spray doesn't only help fight off caterpillars, but also combats slugs and all sorts of other pests: ants, aphids, larvae, and whiteflies.
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The best weapon in the arsenal: pepper and garlic spray
You can find the recipe here.

Spray your plants with it every few days. Don't forget to get the underside of the leaves too. After it rains, spray again.

Repeat until you don't see any more pests. Then spray again a week later to kill off any newly hatched larvae and eggs.

And what if your plant is already damaged?

If the plant is completely chewed up, it's best to give up. Remove it from your garden box. It happens to the best of us.

But leaves with a few holes in them taste just as good as flawless ones. You won't notice them in your soup or smoothie anyway.

And no, they won't make you sick. Even if you accidentally eat one of those eggs or mini-caterpillars 😉

Most of the time you can leave dino kale alone. No matter how ragged it looks, the plant will continue to produce new leaves.
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Damaged dino kale with new leaves coming in
If you remove the caterpillars and keep new ones away, you can still harvest a lot of kale leaves in the fall and winter.

So, what's should you do next?

As soon as you see butterflies, check your vegetables regularly. 

Search for caterpillars in the leaves of your brassicas - plants in the kale family. If you see them, carefully pick them off and put them somewhere else. (Don't kill them: overuse of pesticides - like Round-up - means there are fewer and fewer insects.)

Also, check the underside of the leaves once in a while for any eggs. Immediately rub them away.
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Left: eggs under the leaf. Right: a fully-grown caterpillar
And use the garlic spray to keep new ones out of your Planty Garden.

Go get 'em! 😉

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