Invasion of the Cabbage Whites

2016-03-02 14.24.23The small cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is the bane of gardeners’ existence all over the world. Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, the butterfly is now found throughout most of North America, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.

In my little corner of New Zealand, the butterfly is especially common, presumably because of the huge numbers of commercial brassica crops grown here. In late summer, the roadsides shimmer with the butterflies, and their tattered wings flutter like flags in my car’s grille.

These butterflies are the reason broccoli is a seasonal crop for us. Broccoli can be grown year-round here, but mid- to late-summer broccoli becomes infested with caterpillars. For a few years, I dutifully treated my broccoli with Bt (an organic bacterial toxin that selectively kills caterpillars), but I eventually stopped bothering.

By mid-summer, there is so much other food coming out of the garden that, truth is, we don’t need the broccoli. And having a broccoli-free part of the year helps bring variety to our diets, and makes broccoli more special when it is available in winter and spring.

Sour grapes? Not at all! Just learning to work with the local wildlife instead of against it. Makes life easier for everyone!

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