The first sign of trouble on the kale really didn’t look like much compared to the havoc on the beets and spinach nearby. Those were getting tunneled by leaf miners, making them inedible; that obvious loss to my salads absorbed my attention.
The kale seemed indestructible in comparison – immune to insects and disease. After all, the nibbling of the leaf was just a light scoring of the surface, and, lulled by the belief that the kale wasn’t as sissified as the tender spring greens, I ignored it.
Oh, how foolish can a gardener be? Those early signs were the key to staving off the destructive juggernaut of the Imported Cabbageworm.
These one inch-long, velvety green caterpillars are munching down on every kale leaf in the bed and where they haven’t gnawed, they’re leaving deposits of frass, which is an entomologist’s way of talking nicely about poop. My dinner prep the other night consisted of hand picking the worms and sluicing off their leavings (we weren’t having guests for dinner – honestly, I’d never serve them this).
The worst part of this latest assault on my garden isn’t the bugs – they’re easily dealt with by a spritz of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This organic pesticide made from soil-borne bacteria will give those bugs a killer bellyache. No, the bigger problem is that I know better than to let the early signs of an oncoming problem be ignored.
You see, most garden problems don’t require pesticides if the gardener is alert and scouts their plants. In the early stages, a pest can be controlled with a bit of pruning, hand picking or row covers. Most plants can take a small amount of damage, but if left to mushroom out of control, small bugs become big pests and people either abandon their crops or break out the chemicals.
Hence my guilt for ignoring my training. Yes, I have an organic solution, and once under control, the kale will recover – fortunately there is enough growing season for the plant to size up. As for other, more serious pests on the horizon, my lesson is learned and I’ll pay attention to the early warning signs.