Caterpillars are generally small but they sure seem to eat a lot. I find them to be one of the most difficult pests to get rid of organically. Handpicking them off your plants is probably the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of caterpillars but it is not always effective. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve always seemed to miss one or two and then found I had no plants left the next day.
Another option with caterpillars is to just leave them alone. Let them eat what they want and you take the rest. This can work with plants such as cauliflower and broccoli. The caterpillars tend to eat the outer leaves and then leave the rest. If you are happy to share your veges, then go ahead. I don’t think this works, however, with herbs. I have a couple of green caterpillars who love my basil and they never leave any for me. Plus if you leave the caterpillars you don’t want to find one has accidentally made its way into your salad.
Getting rid of caterpillars can be a matter of trial and error. What works best will depend on they type of caterpillar and the plant affected. A few things you can try include:
- Picking them off by hand
- Place sticky bands around the base of plants
- Spray with an organic pesticide
- Do nothing
Another way to control caterpillars is to introduce predatory pests into your garden. Pests of caterpillars include:
If you want to spray, there are a couple of non-toxic pesticides. These may be biodegradable or organic but it’s best to read the label carefully before using them.
- B. Thuriengiensis spray
- Organic insect spray with pyrethrum such as Beat-A-Bug
- Chilli and garlic spray
- Biodegradable soap spray such as NatraSoap
- Eco Oil
- Pest Oil
Personally I think if you have such a major problem with one pest that you need to spray them then I think it’s better to just grow something else which is better suited to your environment.
The best way to prevent damage by caterpillars is to practice good organic gardening methods which will give you strong, healthy plants which can naturally fight off pests. In general it helps to:
- Companion plant
- Not plant your vegetables in rows
- Rotate your crops
- Encourage predatory insects and birds
- Build up the soil by adding compost and mulch