The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
October 3, 2012
John Randolph, the last Royal Attorney General for the colony of Virginia, advises us, “Three things are necessary to Cabbages . . . to be watered in a dry season, hilled up if they grow long shanked, and kept clear of weeds, which draw the nourishment from the plants and make them spindle.”Cabbage has, however, one great enemy in Tidewater, Virginia that Mr. Randolph did not account for. The cabbage white butterfly, as the gardeners term it, or the Imported Cabbageworm as the academics classify it, is a ubiquitous presence in the fall garden. Mr. Randolph did not mention it because he would not have been bothered by this pest, which did not arrive in the Americas until the middle of the nineteenth century. It was well known in England, however, and its potential ravages were calculated by Richard Bradley in 1720, “Those Caterpillars which feed upon the Cabbage, and change into the common White Butter flies, breed twice every year, each of them laying near 400 Eggs at one time; so that from the second Brood of one single Caterpillar we may reasonable expect 160,000.” When the cabbage plants are young, the caterpillars and the eggs that produce them may be easily found and removed, but once the plants begin to head, the caterpillars migrate to the heart of the plant and cannot be easily reached. There are various elixirs that have been tried with varied success, but for complete control, a covering that excludes the butterfly is the easiest solution. We find that a covering of cheese cloth laid over a simple frame of sticks provides a sure protection, provided the plants are carefully inspected for eggs and caterpillars before covering them over. The modern gardener has several brands of floating row covers available from garden supply stores that may be employed in a like manner.
A complete survey of the cabbages may be found in Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press).