Insect Control: Quick, Organic Tips for Cruciferous Pests

All Photos by Shari Altman
Ode to a poor, little cabbage plant. Our cruciferous vegetables are under attack. Here's what I've been doing in my garden to keep the cutworms, cabbage worms, and slugs at bay.


Out of everything in my garden, the cruciferous vegetables (the cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collards) are the ones being devoured by garden pests. I garden organically and do not want to put chemicals on the plants, but I still want to be able to harvest them. So, here is how I'm  handling the three major pests that are in attack mode.

Use a cutworm collar to protect your seedlings and transplants.

Cutworms are tiny moth larvae living in the soil that often cut the plant off at the stem. Your seedlings and transplants are the most vulnerable. One day you have a healthy plant, the next day you just have a stem stub. Most books recommend a "cutworm collar" to place around the plant. We improvised by cutting plastic yogurt containers (the ones that our recycling center won't take) to make collars for our plants. Easy and very affordable. These collars prevent the cutworms from reaching the stem of the plant. Make sure you push the collars into the soil a bit for the best protection.

Dust plants with flour in the morning to deter cabbage worms.
Cabbage worms:

I swear these worms are the bane of my existence. So very hard to deal with and so common, they seem to eat something in my garden every year. Besides hand-picking, which I seem to do relentlessly all summer long, I applied flour to the plants when they were wet. It's an easy task to do in the morning when there's morning dew, or you can give your plants a quick spritz and sprinkle a little flour on each plant. When the cabbage worms eat the flour, they expand and die. Ever since I applied the flour, I've had a hard time locating one of these little pests. Seems like it's working, at least for the time being.

Try a beer trap to deter slugs.

Ugh. If you see large holes in your leaves, it's a sure sign that a slug has been feeding. Once again, you can hand-pick the slugs if you can find them, either sprinkling them with salt as you go or dropping them into a container of soapy water. 

You can also install beer traps around the garden. Slugs are attracted to beer and will climb in and drown. A beer trap is just simply a shallow bowl or container filled with beer. In my garden, I tend to use a combination of peanut butter jar lids that I just sit on top of the soil or plastic containers that are buried into the soil so that the lip of the container is flush with the soil. To be honest, even with the beer traps, we see slugs -- but perhaps less than we did without them. And each day I check the traps, I find that we've eliminated one more slug (usually one slug per trap, per day).

In order to garden organically, you have to have a relaxed attitude. Do what you can to protect your plants, but also be realistic and know that you are going to lose a few plants to garden pests.

Do you have any tips for battling pests that like to nibble cruciferous veggies?

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