Monday, July 23, 2012

Cabbage White Butterflies

    I have often been heard to make disparaging comments about the cute little Cabbage White butterflies(Pieris rapae). The reason I dislike them so is for the damage they do to vegetables in the cabbage family.  I was out looking at my broccoli the other day and noticed these holes in the leaves.  As I looked closer I noticed all of the little green caterpillars that were the causing the damage. This is the dark side of the pretty white butterflies.  As adults they simply look pretty as they go about sowing seeds of destruction, laying their eggs on my cabbages and broccoli.

    I looked them up in my copy of "Garden Insects of North America" and found a two page entry with lots of color photographs.  I learned that they are also known as the Imported Cabbageworm or the Cabbage Butterfly and that they are common throughout North America.  Under the category of Life History and Habits I found the following:

    "In the northern U.S. and Canada they spend the winter as a pupa among plant debris in the vicinity of previously infested plants. The adult butterflies become active in mid-spring, and the females lay yellow, bullet-shaped eggs on leaves. (The appearance of this insect in spring, coincident with when the cows would again begin to produce milk, is the source of the English term "butterfly.")"
Little green caterpillars  leaving big holes in the broccoli leaves

Notice how the caterpillar in the center of the photo is well camouflaged

    My organic solution to the problem of cabbage whites is to hand pick the caterpillars from the plants. Yes this is somewhat of a tedious chore, but I'd rather not poison the broccoli and risk poisoning my honeybees in order to get rid of the caterpillars.  Its not as difficult to pick the caterpillars off the broccoli, but it can be a serious chore with cabbage.  There are just a lot more crevices where the caterpillars can hide on the cabbages. I think an easier solution would be to issue butterfly nets to the grandkids and then put a bounty on little white butterflies.

Tasty treats for the chickens

   As noted in my previous post on chicken and dumplings, I don't like to waste meat, including insect protein.  Like any good recycler I took these caterpillars to a place where they could be recycled into something useful, namely chicken eggs.  I do the same thing with drone larvae from my bee hives. I sometimes do drone trapping as a way to monitor the level of varroa infestation in my beehives. This requires the removing capped drone brood to determine if there are a lot of varroa mites on the pupating drones.  After I'm done with this process, I simply throw the drone brood into the chicken pen. As a general rule, the hens seem to catch on a little quicker to the fact that I may be bringing a treat when I toss stuff into their pen.
Rose the chicken enthusiastically gobbles up the caterpillars

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