Friday, June 24, 2011

Jeepers, Creepers...All Over the Collards

Seeing a cabbage white butterfly fluttering around in the vegetable garden is not always a good sign.

Oh, sure, they pollinate plants, and they're pretty. And I somehow picked up the information, as a little girl, that if the first butterfly you saw in spring was white or yellow, the rest of the year would be a lucky one; but woe betide you if it were a dark-colored butterfly. (Which did not explain multicolored butterflies' prognostication value, and in any event was not a good thing for a hypochondriacal, superstitious, worrywart kid to add to her list of concerns.)

But if you're a collard plant, or someone who tends a collard patch, cabbage whites mean only one thing: tiny eggs laid on leaves that will hatch out into voracious caterpillars. Cabbage whites lay eggs only on host plants in the Brassica family, which includes not only my collards but also the red and green cabbages and the rutabagas I've planted.

I collared some collard thieves this morning while enjoying a dewy, cool moment of morning sunshine. Here's the little greedy-guts just before I tossed it into the yard for a lucky robin to enjoy (there was a robin watching from the top of the chimney, just like the bird keeping an eye on Peter Rabbit in that gardening story):

Last year I paid my daughter a nickel apiece to rid the collards of caterpillars, and she pulled in a tidy profit. This year, though, I think she'll quickly figure out that rescuing collards now means collards appearing on the plate later, and she hates collards, so why eradicate the caterpillars? The enemy of my enemy is my friend...

I also found what looked like a winged aphid surrounded by aphid nymphs on the underside of a leaf. Aphids have this freakish lifestyle in which an adult female, without ever having mated, give live birth to aphid nymphs. And those nymphs grow up and likewise give birth without ever having consorted with a male aphid. (In some species, a pregnant female aphid is carrying female babies that are already pregnant with their own daughters.) The males aren't born until fall, when females give birth to both males and females. Those aphids will mate and lay eggs that can overwinter.

The robin notwithstanding, the birds in general are being slackers and not doing much about the caterpillar/nymph situation.

Under some leaves, however, there are a few tiny spiders building webs no bigger than pennies--I'm assuming they're the spiderlings that hatched a few weeks ago under the toolshed door, and the miniature doilies they're spinning are certainly not up to capturing those big-fat-sausage caterpillars. Nor are the aphid nymphs likely to blunder into them. Oh well. Maybe if I raise the rates on caterpillar hunting, or find a six-year-old boy who'll pluck them off for a penny apiece...