Cabbage Moths

Broccoli Bed

My broccoli is really healthy this season. It’s been a great crop of leaves, but the flowers have been kind of stunted and I couldn’t figure out why.

It gets plenty of water, a regular feed of chook poo tea and, at least once a day, (sometimes 3 times a day) I go out and collect cabbage moth larvae. Since I don’t use poison (and try to avoid even home-made organic sprays as much as possible) hand picking is the most practical way to do battle with this particular foe.

A morning “harvest” of cabbage moth caterpillars

These little caterpillars are the (current) bane of my existence. There are dozens of them to be picked off daily. I had thought the worst damage they did was to put holes in the plant’s leaves but one day Frank pointed out that they actually crawl inside the flowers and hang out there, eating all the new buds. This obviously prevents the head from growing to its full (grocery store) size.

So now when I do my caterpillar harvest, I check along the stalk, under the leaves, on top of the leaves and IN the flower head.

Broccoli head stunted by cabbage moth caterpillars

My chooks have learned to hover nearby (outside the fence, much to their chagrin) because they LOVE cabbage moth caterpillars. Mmmm, good.

Or they were delicacies up until a couple of days ago. The night after I took this photo there was a shower and the next morning hoards caterpillars appeared from nowhere. I assume they were drowning in their hidey-holes so crawled out on the leaves to feed AND breathe. I collected 4 handfuls of the things. The chickens gobbled them up which I guess finally satiated them. Then they proceeded to demonstrate the axiom that you can have too much of a good thing. The next day the girls pecked at my caterpillar offerings but dropped them on the ground and now they won’t even peck. They look, tilt their head to look again at a different angle, then look up at me as if to say, “enough of this French cuisine, where’s the meat and potatoes (mmmm, potatoes)?”

“Harvesting” the cabbage moth caterpillars was never heaps of fun but at least I felt I was offering the girls something special and good for them in the end. Now I throw the poor innocent little larvae on the ground and squash them. It might be stupid, but I really feel awful doing that.

The cabbage moths are actually quite pretty. They flitter and dance over, under and around the broccoli (and pretty much every other plant). Often 2 will do a graceful spinning flight before parting. It’s heart-warming to watch; I just wish they were less fertile.

The photo below shows a cabbage moth flying over my broccoli. The photo shows a great example of a smaller caterpillar under the leaf. This one (and millions of its cousins) managed to survive my morning “harvest”.

Cabbage Moth in flight

This moth is probably laying eggs (darn her). You can see the small holes that her offspring make in the leaves of the plants (this one is kale which is also in the cabbage family). They can devour a whole leaf though they aren’t as bad as the chickens. Most of the damage in this photo was done by Bronwyn and Rosie when they managed to make it over the fence a couple of days before this moth found the plant.

Cabbage Moth on a Kale Leaf

I don’t think I’ll eradicate this particular pest but I’ll keep chipping away at it so that I get some sort of harvest for my kitchen. Thank goodness I don’t have a job to rush off to or there’s no way I could spend the hours I do every week in bug picking – I guess that’s why farmers use sprays.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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12 Responses to Cabbage Moths

  1. Coop Poop says:

    How about freezing the caterpillars for a snack to give to your chooks later on in the summer or even some wild birds? I wonder what other animal(s) would enjoy such a treat?

    • I’d need to buy a separate freezer just to hold them 🙂 But it is a good idea. I wonder if the girls would like them in a few months when they aren’t plentiful every day.

      I’ve considered throwing the caterpillars into the grass assuming that passing birds might eat them even if my girls have grown bored but birds rarely land on the ground in my yard any more because my chickens chase them. Which would mean they’d reach maturity and I’d have even more moths and even more larvae. I could throw the caterpillars into the bird bath where all the birds visit but that seems kind of cruel to the caterpillars. They would drown and/or bake in the sun before being eaten. This is a conundrum!

  2. eeeuw – I would have no trouble squishing them hard on some pavers or concrete.!

  3. SpruceKnob says:

    So amusing to read about cabbage moths when they are will not be a reality for me, in the northern hemisphere, for another 6 months. It’s bare northern November in my Vermont garden now, where the ground is frozen and I’m just thinking about getting a load of cow manure dumped to wait for spring.

    • Yeah, I love reading blogs from people in the Northern Hemisphere – it’s like a constant lesson in astronomy. The whole axis tilt thing is hard to ignore. I get really jealous when you lot are harvesting tomatoes and I have to make do with lettuce. That said, in Sydney there is something to harvest on pretty much every day of the year so the frozen ground scene is something I miss – with joy!!!

  4. I only grow Brussel sprouts as I can’t protect any more. I get two varieties of caterpillars, the green, like yours, and one with black stripes. Look out for the bright yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves, I get a great kick when I eradicate them at that stage. We have our first frost this morning so perhaps that will finish them off for the year. (I have no chickens so I have to squash.)

    • I used to be very dedicated in squashing those yellow eggs but gave up as there’s just too many leaves to hunt over and I was busy looking for caterpillars. I think I’ve made a mistake and am paying the price with 10 times the number of caterpillars.

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