September 1989

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Gardening for Profit

A Guide to the Successful Cultivation
of the Market and Family Garden


Peter Henderson

first published in 1866, reprinted from 1874 edition
Index to selections from Gardening for Profit

Chapter XVII

Insects, Part 2

Another enemy of the Cabbage plant and one that is sometimes even more destructive than the club root, is the Cabbage Caterpillar. This insect is comparatively a new-comer, having been imported from Europe by way of Canada. It is produced by the small white butterfly that is seen hovering over the Cabbage patches in spring. It attacks the leaves of the plant, and is such a voracious feeder that it will quickly destroy a whole plantation. I am frequently applied to for a remedy for this pest, but regret to say I know of none that is certain. Nothing is more difficult and unsatisfactory than the attempt to defeat the ravages of insects in the open field, and I have yet to know of any being entirely successful. In the long-cultivated gardens of New Jersey and Long Island we do not suffer much from the ravages of either of the above pests. The soil is so repeatedly turned over and disturbed that I presume the maggot is not left long enough at rest to develop itself in sufficient numbers to produce any great injury and the luxurious growth resulting from the continued and heavy manuring seems to be less inviting to the butterfly to lay her eggs than the feebler growth of less fertile soils. Or it may be that the increase of English sparrows is helping us in both these cases, by destroying the fly that produces the maggot, or the small white butterfly that produces the caterpillar itself, as I know they do with the rose-slug. At all events, the farmer will gain by encouraging and caring for the sparrows.

A few years ago the street trees of New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City were festooned by myriads of the "measuring worm"; now, since the advent of the sparrows, they are scarcely ever seen. The sparrows will live in any section of the country if properly housed and fed in winter, and if such care was general, we should hear fewer complaints of insect ravages. True, they might exact wages for their services in requiring a little grain, but of the two evils, better submit to that done by the birds than to the insects.

I will relate an experiment to destroy the Cabbage Caterpillar, which occurred during this month in my immediate neighborhood. One of my neighbors found that the pest was attacking his Cabbages; he came to me and asked what I thought of his using slaked lime to dust over them. I told him I had but little faith in it. But he was resolved to try it, and put it on at the rate of four or five barrels to the acre, carefully dusting it on each plant. This was about the 1st of June. On the 17th he came to me in triumph, saying that the remedy had been effectual, and that there was hardly a caterpillar to be seen. Unfortunately for the experiment, but fortunately for truth, another neighbor whose Cabbage patch had been attacked at the same time, but had received no lime, was also entirely clear of the caterpillar! The cure was traceable to another cause. We had had a deluging rain, that swept off the caterpillars and started the Cabbages into luxuriant growth at the same time. Had the insect come in the legions it does in some places, had there been no rain, and had the dry, hot weather continued, the lime dust would probably have failed.

Last summer I had with great care nursed along in my greenhouses for many weeks a collection of rare varieties of German Stock Gillyflowers, a plant belonging to the same natural order (Cruciferę) as the Cabbage. Upwards of two thousand plants were set out in June, on rather poor soil; by the middle of July they had made splendid plants, one foot across, and just as they were bursting into bloom we observed the little white butterfly moving amongst them, and knew what might be expected to follow. Lime dust, solutions of carbolic soap, whale oil soap, and sundry other things were used, all to no effect, and by middle of August the plants were literally eaten up by the caterpillar.

There is nothing more unpleasant than to tell any one suffering under a calamity that there is no tangible remedy; but it is infinitely better to do so than to delude them with a false one. I have been a worker of the soil since my boyhood, and every year's experience convinces me of the helplessness of remedies against insects or other blighting plagues that attack vegetation in the open field. It is true that the amateur gardener may save his dozen or two of cabbages or roses by daily picking off or destroying the insects; but when it comes to broad acres, I much doubt if ever any remedy will be found to be practicable. We have one consolation in knowing that these pests are only periodical, and never continue so as to permanently destroy.

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