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Garden Tips from The Micro Farm Project: Natural Caterpillar Control

Updated on January 16, 2014


Has this ever happened to you?...Things are growing beautifully in the garden, and then BAM! All your leaves look like lace?

Holes in the middle of vegetable leaves signal the arrival of caterpillars, the not-so-lovely offspring of butterflies and moths. They eat ravenously and grow at lightening speed, and are sometimes able to take down an entire plant in a day or two. BUT, they are not all bad.

If you garden naturally without commercial pesticides, you will have a few of these critters hanging around your garden periodically.The holes that they chew, while disturbing, signal to the plant that it must fortify itself against an invader.This self-preservation response increases the amount of phytochemicals that the plant produces, and the more phytochemicals that are contained in the leaves and fruits, the healthier and better tasting they will be for YOU!

As a side note, I don’t mind eating a leaf with a hole in it.I conclude that if it was safe, healthy and tasty for a caterpillar, it will be the same for me! Perfect greens are suspicious; they make me wonder what chemicals might have been used to prevent imperfections.

However, that doesn't mean that I give my garden over to the caterpillars for their own personal salad bar. NO! Here's what to do if you spot holes in your vegetable leaves.


1. The first step is to find the offenders. Inspect the stems and turn the leaves over and look for caterpillars and small caterpillar eggs. Brush off the eggs and squish any caterpillars that you are able to find. Check carefully...they are very good at blending in.

2. If you see damage, but can't find the caterpillars, look for frass, the technical term for caterpillar poop. It looks like very small balls that are black or dark brown. The dots on my hand are frass. The frass may be located below a caterpillar...or the critter may have eaten, pooped and moved on.

3. To prevent butterflies and moths from landing on leaves and laying eggs that turn into hungry caterpillars, drape tulle netting (wedding veil material) over the tops of the plants so that it touches the ground.

4. If you want to deter caterpillar naturally, use an organic neem oil or insecticidal soap. Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) is an OMRI approved treatment that will eradicate caterpillars, but it is pricey and generally not necessary. However, if you feel that you must treat your plants, use BT sparingly according to the directions on the package. BT is a living organism, so it does not last forever on the shelf.

Share your tips for caterpillar control. Do you have a sure-fire technique? What is your preference: manual control or chemical?

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    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great ideas! I featured your lens on our Facebook page today.

    • Lynda Makara profile image

      Lynda Makara 4 years ago from California

      All I can say is EWWW! So that's what's been eating my plants.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 4 years ago

      I'm just reading and learning for now...looking to the day when I can micro-garden.

    • profile image

      tonyleather 4 years ago

      Excellent advice here! Thanks!