Kale Gardeners Beware! Protect Your Leafy Greens And Eat Them Too!

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PHOTO: The Male Cabbage Butterfly. This beauty is a threat to your garden as she looks for a leaf to lay her eggs. The two spotted wing outs her as female. The wings of male cabbage butterflies only have one spot.

*Excerpt and photos from Protect Your Garden by Ed Rosenthal recipe by Jane Klein

If the growing presence of kale on menus, snack shelves, and food blogs is matched in home gardens, this leafy green plant may replace tomatoes as the most popular crop. While kale has its human aficionados, there are other snackers that enjoy what is now regarded as the new super food.

While aphids have ruined many young kale plants, another competitor for your greens appears in the form of a delicate white butterfly. It seems unfair that such a lovely harbinger of summer should present a major threat to your crop. Flitting around the garden, this adult form of the cabbageworm occasionally stops to drink nectar and lay its eggs on the underside of leaves. Quite prolific, females deposit from 300 to 500 eggs in their lifetime.

It only takes a few days for cabbageworm eggs to develop into kale-loving larvae.

It only takes a few days for cabbageworm eggs to develop into kale-loving larvae.

The yellow cone-shaped eggs hatch in just three to five days and then develop into larvae within days. It’s the larvae that are after your kale. These velvet green, sluggish caterpillars can reduce whole plants to bare stems and veins in short order. They leave behind large amounts of excrement that makes harvested produce undesirable.

There are many eco-friendly ways to protect your garden from this adversary. Strategies of exclusion, prevention, and eradication include:

  • Handpick larvae and squash eggs.
  • Sprinkle crop leaves with cornmeal or rye flour. When the larvae eat the flour, it expands in their gut and they die.
  • Use row covers––kale does not need pollination.
  • Spray plants as soon as butterflies appear. Products or homemade brews that include garlic, black pepper, and herbal oils are effective repellants. Bt-k, Bacillius thuringiensis var. kurstaki, is a naturally occurring bacterium that is lethal to caterpillars. It has been conveniently packaged by several major brands.

If the infestation is noticed after harvest, dinner can still be saved. Soak the leaves in warm salt water before cooking. Any larvae will die and float to the top of the water.

So enjoy the sight of these fluttering butterflies. And take it as a signal to be ready to protect your greens from their munching caterpillar offspring.

Kale Summer Salad (Side Dish for Four)

Take 1 bunch of kale and cut or tear into bite-size pieces. Cover and steam over boiling water for 2- 2 ½ minutes to soften. Place in strainer and run under cold water.

Toppings can include cooked quinoa or rice, avocado, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, and feta cheese. Add bite-size slices of nectarines for a great seasonal addition.

For an easy citrus dressing blend together:

2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp dijon mustard
½ Tsp Salt
Ground pepper to taste