Author Topic: Caterpillars!  (Read 4316 times)

Offline zarfbloot

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Caterpillars!
« on: August 08, 2013, 07:02:53 PM »
Hi! I am new to gardening and am in desperate need of help and advice. I live in central Florida.

I started gardening because the pesticides/chemicals on vegetables and fruit in stores scares me. The more I have learned about them the more I wanted to become more self-sufficient and grow my own food.

I didn't build a bunch of beds and start a huge garden though. I started slow. Over the winter I had 20 strawberry plants. They did OK and I have some great ideas for next year and keeping birds out of them. I didn't start anything this spring because I was finishing my last semester of college and wanted to focus on that. Finally got a chance this July and planted some pumpkins from seed. The plants have been doing great until yesterday. I went out to check on them after work and almost every leaf had been eaten down. My culprit is some sort of small green silk caterpillar. I found bright orange eggs all over the plants. The caterpillars bored down into some of the flower buds as they were forming as well.

Here's what I did yesterday. I mixed a small spray bottle with some all natural dish soap and water and sprayed the plants heavily. I then found and killed every caterpillar I could (19 total killed yesterday). Today I went back out and found/killed 12 more caterpillars. I don't know how I missed that many yesterday but I was very thorough then and today. I didn't respray the plants today because I wanted to check in and make sure it was safe before I did it again. I kind of panicked yesterday and did it without researching much. I have just heard that dish soap and water works on some things.

My question are: am I reacting appropriately? Is there anything more I can do? Anything preventative I could have done differently?

I am planning on putting in a 4'x8' raised bed using the hugelkulture method the first week of September to grow some leafy greens, etc. I want to learn as much as I can about these caterpillars before then.

Thanks for any help and advice from all of you seasoned gardeners!

Offline LibertyBelle

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2013, 07:16:42 PM »
Two things...
1) I just hand pick any caterpillars that I see, and...

2) I don't kill wasps.  Seriously...paper wasps (the ones that build grey paper nests in the alcoves around the barn, etc.) live to kill caterpillars.  While the wasps can get nasty if you wander too close to their nests, I've found that when the wasps are in the garden, they pretty much just ignore me as they are too busy hunting down pests. 

Here's a video of a paper wasp destroying a caterpillar:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPqlWEjDZ-c

Offline flippydidit

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2013, 07:40:44 PM »
We're also in Central Florida.  Specifically in Sumter County.  It sounds like you're deficient in beneficial critters.  We have Guinea fowl for our garden.  They're insectivores.  Parasitic wasps, mantids, birds and other beneficials are much more adept at removing pests than we are.  However, if you're still having difficulty, organic sprays can be made with orange oil, cayenne pepper, and many other recipes.  We've also dusted with DE powder and use mineral oil on the tips of our sweet corn.

Offline Cedar

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2013, 10:09:06 PM »
What species of beast are they? Are you sure the orange eggs are from the green caterpillars? Many of the moths can be pollinators. You might check with your local 'bug guy' at the extension office or state university to ID the culprit.

Cedar

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2013, 05:06:19 PM »
flippydidit: Cool about also being in Central Florida. I'm in Polk County. I would agree that gardening life would be easier if I had a nice amount of beneficial critters. I live within the limits of my city and I'm pretty sure Guinea fowl would count as a nuisance because of the noise they make. Since I am new to gardening I haven't been able to build up some mantids/lady bugs/lace wings that I want but I have planted a lot of marigolds around my house and the garden area and I'm hoping that will attract some beneficial things.

LibertyBelle: I am hand picking and killing them. After the initial onslaught I found another three on there today but I am seeing some new growth on my plants which is a welcomed sight. As for the paper wasps, my wife literally has a fear of them so we have been knocking down nests/etc. I won't be as diligent about this in the future but that is a tough battle for me to fight. :)

Cedar: I'm pretty sure they are the larvae form of a small white butterfly. The color of the eggs, the description of the caterpillar matched up. Do you have any suggestions?

I read a few places online about a spray made out of soaking hot peppers in water for a few days and then using the water to spray on the plants. Has anyone tried anything like this and had success?

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2013, 06:12:32 PM »
I'm starting to get discouraged. I am at least determined not to use any chemicals on my plants but the way this is going I'm going to lose them all instead. Noone seems to have used a natural spray/concoction that actually works. Everywhere I look I see "you can try" or "this should work" but I don't ever read any actual success stories.

I have been very diligent with killing caterpillars on my pumpkin plants. I'm averaging 8-10 per day which is very both encouraging and discouraging. It's encouraging because I'm killing them and preventing them from doing additional damage. Discouraging because that means I missed 8-10 the day before although I don't see how it's possible.

And now I have a new nuisance. I noticed little highways appearing on the leaves of my bush bean plants. I did some research and am 99% certain that my new pest is called a leaf miner. After researching I have seen a lot of small, "fly-like" insects flying all over my plants. They didn't seem to be eating the plants so I have been leaving them alone. Apparently they are putting their eggs into my leaves and the little buggers are eating their way out after they hatch.

I'm planning on putting in my first 8'x4' bed in a few weeks and plant a full assortment of greens, radish, etc. I'm hoping to get some tried and true techniques for combating these pests but so far it seems like all I have are urban legends about sprays made with peppers and soaps that don't seem to be based in a lot of truth.

Help?

Offline Skunkeye

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2013, 09:39:10 AM »
This is a very common problem when setting up a garden for the first time: a lack of predators.  Think of your garden as an ecosystem.  In any ecosystem, the first things to move in are the plants.  Then come the things that eat the plants, and only when there are enough of those to support a predator population, do the things that eat the plant-eaters come in.  I've noticed, five years into my garden at this house, that we have much fewer pest problems and lots more assassin bugs, ladybugs, lacewings, toads, lizards, etc.  The first couple years were a struggle against the bugs, just like yours, but now I have a lot of allies in the fight (as long as I don't kill them with indiscriminate pesticide use), and they're out there working in the garden all day, every day.

One thing I've found useful for long-term caterpillar control is to determine what type of caterpillar it is.  Many species will have one favorite plant they prefer over all others, and lots of times you can plant a trap crop for them.  They'll lay their eggs on the trap crop instead of your pumpkins, and then you can just pull up the whole plant and dispose of it.  Trap crops can also help with the leaf miner problem - they love lambsquarters, and will often leave your other plants alone if you have that planted nearby.

I know it's disappointing, but try not to get discouraged.  Your first few seasons as a gardener will be filled with failures and dead plants.  That's the dirty little secret none of the gardening books or TV shows will tell you.  Just keep planting, and have patience. 

Offline Crazy Fox

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2013, 02:02:01 PM »
Your first few seasons as a gardener will be filled with failures and dead plants.  That's the dirty little secret none of the gardening books or TV shows will tell you.  Just keep planting, and have patience.

Good ideas from Skunkeye and it's true that the beginning is tough. Last year I started a garden and had a huge watermelon plant and a zucchini plant. I was getting nice big watermelons and tiny zucchini fruits were growing. Everything was great and although I was seeing squash bugs, I was killing them religiously (2 "hunts" per day with 10 kills per day +eggs) and my plants looked big and strong every night.

Then one morning I walked to my garden and found my watermelon and zucchini completely wilted and dead flat on the ground (probably succumbed when the bugs hit a vein). It was horribly disappointing, nothing had ripened at all, but I hung in there and focused on enjoying my surviving carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and beets.

I learned some things and tried some new plants and this year is much better, so hang in there!

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2013, 02:12:29 PM »
Depending on the setup I've had controllable success with bug zappers. Otherwise, wasps kill certain varieties, and BT seems to be the go to when you just need them dead. I wouldn't go crazy on anything until you know the species and are sure of what you are killing.

Offline cohutt

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2013, 06:32:13 PM »
Use organic bt. Brands include dipel and thuracide.  (Powder or liquid) Wont hurt anything except soft bodied caterpillars when they digest it from leaves.

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2013, 07:43:02 PM »
Great advice everyone.

Skunkeye -- it is true that noone tells you that you'll have to go through a few seasons of heart ache before things start to balance out. Thanks for the encouraging words. I'm not going to be giving up and I'm moving forward with my raised bed in three weeks.

CTyler7 -- I was also getting very attached to my plants and  was devastated to see them eaten. I am trying to stay as diligent as I can. I'm doing this to provide good, clean, nutritious and chemical free food for my family so I have great motivation.

Cohutt -- I have heard mixed things about BT. Do you have some information on it?

Offline cohutt

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #11 on: August 15, 2013, 07:54:15 PM »


Cohutt -- I have heard mixed things about BT. Do you have some information on it?

When I see white butterflies, pretty as they are, I get the bt out and spray at the first sign of caterpillar damage, mainly on brassicas.  It washes off and needs to be reapplied regularly because it isn't systemic in the plant, it is just on the surface and is ingested my the worm.

I've used both brands i mentioned with success, the pillars die and go away very quickly.  It won't hut your ladybugs or wasps or honeybees or anything else considered beneficial.

Sidebar, as mentioned above, wasps are workhorses in my garden. every bed has several working over the plants at any given time, piccking all sorts of bad things off as they work.. they aren't aggressive away from their nests btw, they just buzz away like a honey bee would.


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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2013, 09:43:10 PM »
Great advice everyone.

Skunkeye -- it is true that noone tells you that you'll have to go through a few seasons of heart ache before things start to balance out. Thanks for the encouraging words. I'm not going to be giving up and I'm moving forward with my raised bed in three weeks.

CTyler7 -- I was also getting very attached to my plants and  was devastated to see them eaten. I am trying to stay as diligent as I can. I'm doing this to provide good, clean, nutritious and chemical free food for my family so I have great motivation.

Cohutt -- I have heard mixed things about BT. Do you have some information on it?

BT topically is as harmless as it gets. It exists naturally in soil and is the natural check against caterpillars and certain worms. If you ingest it, it dies on contact. The issue with BT is GMO made to produce BT. The science is sketchy at best either way, but it would never naturally be produced inside produce, so a lot of naturalists object to it.

Offline gopack84

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2013, 06:57:16 AM »
It can also help to plant some beneficial insect attracting plants in your garden. Lots of tiny wasps(not the big paper nest building kind, but the very small solitary kinds) feed on small flower nectars but lay their eggs in caterpillars. Plants that attract these typically have lots of small flowers in bunches on raised stalks. This includes lots of herbs. Try tucking some of these plants around in various corners of the garden near your crop plants.

Here's a decent starter list of the kinds of plants I'm talking about, but you should do some research and find more.
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-7078-beneficial-insect-attractant-mix.aspx

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2013, 03:34:22 PM »
Thanks gopack! I was doing some research on mint and how a lot of harmful insects don't like it. What are some of your favorites that you have planted that seem to do a good job?

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2013, 05:14:50 PM »
Mint, sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc. all have incremental impacts on pests, but when things get way out of whack, they don't cut it in my experience. They do a lot to stabilize things though. IMO no garden should exist without herbs crammed all over the place, but sometimes they just aren't enough.

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #16 on: August 16, 2013, 08:23:13 PM »
Are any of those "fall" worthy? I was at the store earlier and couldn't find any herbs that had a fall growing season listed on the pack.

Offline Crazy Fox

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #17 on: August 16, 2013, 08:36:42 PM »
Are any of those "fall" worthy? I was at the store earlier and couldn't find any herbs that had a fall growing season listed on the pack.

I'm sure many of them are but I can only personally speak for sage and rosemary. As pointed out in one of the podcast episodes, you need to have established plants before the cold hits. Maybe you could consider starting them indoors until they are mature or build some cold frames to shelter them.

Offline Skunkeye

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #18 on: August 16, 2013, 09:27:26 PM »
You're in central Florida, most of those should be just fine as fall herbs.  You've got plenty of time to get them established before the "cold" weather hits you, and you probably can carry them through the winter, as long as you cover them on those few nights when the temps go below about 35 or so.

As far as flowering herbs go, basil is great for this purpose.  If you let it go to seed, it will produce hundreds of tiny flowers, very attractive to bees and predatory wasps. 

Offline zarfbloot

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #19 on: August 17, 2013, 06:30:11 AM »
Thanks for the great tips Tyler and Skunkeye! We haven't had a frost in two years here and the year before that we only had one. If they'll grow I will plant them!

Offline gopack84

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Re: Caterpillars!
« Reply #20 on: August 17, 2013, 10:07:13 AM »
I've had pretty good luck up near the Atlanta area with yarrow and dill just to name a couple. As someone else pointed out though, it's not a cure all. It's really more of a long term aid  in the balancing act and it is a balance. No food(ie, catepillars) means fewer predators(ie, wasps). The goal isn't to eliminate the catepillars, it's just to make their life difficult so they only eat 10% of your stuff instead of 90%. For short term needs you're always going to have to do short term things like picking and killing the critters manually and to get started, I wouldn't hesitate to us BT or things like soaps applied in carefully and targeted ways. Generally speaking, just widely broadcasting insecticides in a food garden is bad practice in my opinion.