What is Eating My Mustard Greens?
by Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
At my old garden, I was only allowed to grow vegetables on my small deck – I lived in a condo. My deck was in part shade so between lack of space and lack of sun I could only manage to grow a small amount of cherry tomatoes and a sad number of potatoes. Otherwise I stuck to ornamentals, herbs and wildflowers which I could get away with planting in the ground while enjoying a reasonable selection of plants that would grow in part shade.
When I got married and moved into a house in 2018, I started collecting vegetable seeds at seed swaps for my new garden which has plenty of sun. I had to do a lot of planting in a hurry so I just planted the seeds I had in the hopes that I would get a few vegetables and save a few seeds for the following year.
I’ve been having really good luck again with cherry tomatoes and I’m now addicted to growing leafy green vegetables so I can have fresh tasty salads that I pick myself. A few of the plants have really been chewed on by pests which is not a surprise because I don’t use pesticides. In my haste I made no effort to try companion planting to chase some of the pests away. Most herbs are not bothered much by pests so since I’m pretty new to growing vegetables I’m seeing a lot of creatures that I haven’t seen before.
I had some Evergestis rimosalis (Cross-striped cabbageworm) on my mustard greens and some Pieris rapae (Imported cabbageworm) on my collards. I’m interested in invertebrate conservation and providing food to wild birds, so in the quest to get some vegetables I can eat I’m not going to apply poisons. I might start an additional bed of these vegetables in my fall garden and protect them with a row cover and some companion planting.
I’m familiar with these little white blobs on this tomato or tobacco hornworm – those are the cocoons of tiny parasitic wasps that feed on caterpillars. The lifestyle of some of these tiny wasps is pretty horrific, and I’m saying that as a big fan of invertebrates in general! Some of them use plants as a host and some use other insects. Tiny parasitic wasps lay eggs on the bodies of caterpillars. When the tiny wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the caterpillar while it’s still alive. When they emerge they weave white cocoons where they stay until they hatch into adult wasps. The caterpillar they have been feeding on is eventually doomed though it might not die right away.
Even though their lifestyle kind of turns my stomach, these wasps are beneficial so I’m going to put this caterpillar back out in the garden. When the adults emerge they can continue their work of preying on garden pests. If you are going to destroy any caterpillars, it’s recommended that you leave the parasite-infested ones in the garden to add to nature’s arsenal of natural controls. The adult wasps of this type are not social and they do not sting. Some of the adults are so small I’m not even sure what kind I have in the garden. I have swarms of tiny and medium sized insects all over my masses of herbs that are in flower, such as Dill, Garlic Chives, Peppermint, Bronze Fennel and more. Herbs that get clusters of small flowers are worth growing just to get into your garden all the beneficial insects that are attracted to them.