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Butterfly in the Ointment

So what do you do when the caterpillars start to eat your broccoli?

I have a very inconsistent approach it seems versus invertebrates that attack the plants that we have, at cost and expense – mostly of time – put in our garden. The latest difficulty is that now we have a bunch of burgeoning Brassicas of various types putting down some serious growth and spreading enticements of fresh home grown vegetables to be enjoyed at some point. But we hit a snag recently.

The Lovely Wife noticed her first. White and pure, hanging around the vegetable trough, fluttering her wings as if protesting her innocence. But this was no virgin. No, it was a female cabbage white and she was systematically laying small clumps of her yellow eggs on the purple sprouting broccoli and the cauliflower. Oddly, she was entirely avoiding the cabbage. I have suggested that because she is a Middle Class St Albans resident the concept of letting your offspring feed on mere cabbage is just not on… ‘Only the best purple sprouting broccoli for my little dears’ I hear her cry while complaining that the Tortoiseshells are bringing the neighbourhood down.

So we checked yesterday and they have begun to hatch. And the holes are appearing and they are growing quickly.

So now we are confronted by the question of what to do.

I have to say, to some creatures in the garden, no quarter is shown. I have very little guilt about eliminating slugs and greenfly, and judging from the never ending waves of attacks – a kind of slimy version of ‘Plants versus Zombies’ springs to mind – I’m not making much of a population impact and the voracious crawling things do indeed seem intent on destroying everything we put in to make our garden look more like a planned garden and less like a wilderness. So war was declared.

But butterflies are pretty. Slugs are not. Unless you are a slug specialist I suppose in which case you probably find them endlessly fascinating, but I am not one of those.

So we compared the options. Well, we could try and clip off all the eggs we could find, and kill the caterpillars. We did consider moving them all away from the main patch and relocate them on a sacrificial cabbage somewhere else in the garden. This second plan appealed as it sounded more humane – and I like the idea of a ‘sacrificial cabbage’. Or we do nothing and watch them chomp through the vegetables.

Well, for now we have chosen the third approach, and we are feeling reasonably good about it. In the end, most of the vegetables we have planted are not yet putting forth the parts we actually intend to eat so on the whole the holes are not so much of a problem. Secondly, the constant presence of our robins and blackbirds in the garden is a reminder that together with a host of invertebrate predators – the leaves are also crawling with spiders – most of Mrs White’s offspring are going to end up as lunch for something anyway. Finally, it gives us something to watch and I’m looking forward to examining the leaves for pupae soon for the first time in about 30 years. It is not a good attitude if you want fine garden greens I know; but it kind of feels better and anyway, I won’t notice the holes when the leaves are eventually stir fried or whatever (probably with bacon).

So I don’t know. I may be going soft. The thought does pass through my mind that I am now going to stand around now and let the roses fade under the onslaught of the aphid horde in the hope that the few ladybirds in the garden decide to pig out one afternoon. Or maybe I’ll just be nice to my butterflies, as a better class of pest.

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