Eco-Living Magazine

Keep Cabbage Worms Away with an At-Home Solution

Posted on the 18 July 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Keep bugs off your brussel sprouts with garlic and chilies.

It’s bad enough that the mosquitos in DC regularly leave welts on my legs; it’s unacceptable when bugs start eating my plants, too.

A couple weeks ago, I moved a container of brussel sprouts from the third-floor balcony to the front yard. Two days later, several of the leaves had taken on the appearance of swiss cheese, and upon inspection, other leaves were completely missing.

The culprit: cabbage worms. Not actually worms at all, these little moth caterpillars look like very fat inchworms: pale (brussel sprout) green, a half-inch long, with soft, round bodies. Barely noticeable clinging to the plant stalks, the chubby little things were clearly eating their weight in greenery.

Off to the Google Machine!

It seemed I had three options for getting rid of the little buggers:

  • Plucking them off each day by hand (recommended for cabbage-growers with small, insect-minded children, I would imagine)

  • Spraying my precious plant with chemical pesticides

  • Concocting a vile brew of cabbage-worm repellant with ingredients in my cupboard

Readers here will not be surprised to learn that I took the latter route, but it’s worth talking a little bit about pesticide use.

Generally speaking, pesticides are poison. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “a pesticide is anything that is any substance or mixture of substances intended for: preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.”

That sounds vague enough, but the agency goes on to say , “By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm” (bold theirs).

Under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA has issued a guide for assessing exposure scenarios and risk factors. The 500-plus page document came out of a directive for pesticide assessments to  provide “reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other exposures for which there is reliable information.”

Unfortunately, the mere existence of a 500-page document outlining the various ways in which we are exposing ourselves to pesticides and determining how many days our children can play on pesticide-treated ball fields does not alleviate my concern.

Perusing the EPA website, this headline caught my eye: “Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty To Federal Environmental Crimes And Civil Violations And Will Pay More Than $81 Million / Retailer admits violating criminal and civil laws designed to protect water quality and to ensure proper handling of hazardous wastes and pesticides – Press Announcement.”

Wal-Mart has been in the news quite a bit here in DC, but the company involved in this case is somewhat beside the point. My question is: If pesticides have to be properly disposed of, i.e., not dumped down the kitchen sink, why is it OK for me to spray some on my brussel sprouts, where it will be washed into the gutter?

But enough with the bad news. I have some good news for anyone searching to get rid of cabbage worms: It is super easy.

To begin, dig through your spice rack or vegetable drawer for the hottest peppers you can find. In my case, I used three or four dried Thai chilies. Dump them in a blender. Add a few cloves of garlic and about two cups of warm water. Blend thoroughly. Like, really thoroughly. Let it sit for an hour or so. Blend it again, in case the dried chillies were too hard to blend thoroughly before. Let it sit for another few hours while you go to dinner or the baseball game or whatever you like to do in the evening. Let it sit overnight if you feel like it, and it’s not making your kitchen smell too garlicky. Strain using cheesecloth (or a coffee filter, which is what I had around the house). Pour into a spray bottle. Spray liberally on affected plant.

Goodbye, cabbage worms!

We’ve been spraying our plant every couple days or so (it’s been raining a lot here), and no more leaves have mysteriously disappeared. Sure, Thai chili oil and garlic probably isn’t the best thing for the neighborhood, and I still wouldn’t recommend it for industrial purposes, but it was one small victory for my organic, urban, container, vegetable garden.

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