The Very Hungry Caterpillars

“In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly.   But with humans it is the other way around:  a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.”
-Chekhov

It all started with thin webbing appearing my okra, the irrational bolting of my basil, and then thin webbing on my basil. At first glance, it was obvious that the webbing was not a standard spider’s handiwork. I feared the similarity it had to spider mite damage but the webbing was on top of the leaves instead of underneath; plus there were holes in the leaves under many of the webs. If it wasn’t spider mites, what could it be?

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Then I found them. An infestation including dozens of tiny hungry caterpillars on a single small basil plant. I was mortified. What kind of negligent gardener had I been to not notice these critters earlier when I had spotted webbing on okra? I really thought that the basil was just bolting from heat and didn’t realize it had the added stress of being chewed on.

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I think I was also simply unconcerned about the Basil being susceptible to pests. Basil is often used in companion planting to deter pests from other plants. Many strongly fragranced herbs are not insect targets due to their pungent aroma. Had I thought to carefully inspect this plant from time to time like I do with my other plants, I might have avoided losing as many tasty leaves as I did.

So it was time for organic pest control. I don’t know what type of caterpillar they were but I knew they were causing significant damage. I picked each one I found off of the plant with my shovel and flung them off my balcony. Forgive me if that sounds inhumane, but they were devouring one of my precious culinary delights. Usually, the advice I read for controlling caterpillars, slugs, snails, stink bugs, and the like involves a dish of soapy water they drown in. I rationalized that butterflies are friends but their larvae can do significant damage to a food crop so I pitched them downstairs where they could eat grass and become butterflies. It seemed like a good compromise to me.

Additional measures of natural pest control were in the form of cleaning my balcony. Many pests hide in plant debris and start to congregate in areas that have been stagnant, so I swept and got my bucket of very hot soapy water and washed down the patio. It’s also nice having the area clean.

I would really enjoy creating a blog post about making basil ice cubes for later use and saving basil seeds; but unfortunately the very hungry caterpillars put a damper on that plan. After eradicating the pests and cleaning up, the plant may still put off some goods after all but more on that later. If you want my advice, stay ahead of the bugs with periodic leaf checks.

Still undeterred by pests,

Marissa

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