Monday, September 7, 2009

What Lurks in the Night

cut worm hole 2
As I had mentioned in an earlier post, for the past couple of weeks something has been decimating my Asian greens. My tatsoi are finished and I have about 5 sad looking pak chois left. The culprit has since developed a taste for my beet greens. Last week I left out a mouse trap under one of my affected plants - nothing. The other day I set out 4 shallow bowls of stale beer to catch possible slugs - again nothing. I was thoroughly frustrated to say the least. And all I knew was that the crime was being done at night.

cut worm hole
Then the other morning- a break in the case. I went out into my garden shortly after sunrise and saw the familiar sight of half eaten leaves lying on the ground. But this time, I also noticed an odd beet leaf standing straight up from the ground. After I lifted the leaf, I could see a hole in the soil measuring about a quarter of an inch in diameter. And as I looked around, I noticed several other holes of the same size. I had a feeling that these were related to a catepillar-like creature I spotted a couple of times while turning over the soil in my plot. As I dug around, bingo - there he was:

cut worm
I looked through one of my gardening books and discovered that this was a cutworm (or at least I think so). Not only did he look like what was pictured in the book, but the damage being done was exactly as described. So what now? I'll have to place collars around the base of my beets to inhibit further damage. I'm also considering buying some beneficial nematodes or an organic pesticide containing BTK. Rodale's Complete Guide to Organic Gardening suggests scattering oat bran mixed with BTK and molasses around the infected area. My other option is to do nothing until the spring, as I've read that the season for cutworms should be over by early September. Any suggestions?


  1. How big is that thing? It looks huge from the picture! I've never had cutworms, but I've come across a few remedies for them with all the books I've read.

    1) Sprinkle Epsom salt around the base of your plants.
    2) Wrap the base of the plants a few times with newspaper. It will naturally decompose.
    3) Insert a matchstick or toothpick or popsicle stick (something like that) on either side of the plant. I guess that is supposed to stop them before they get to your plant.
    4) Sprinkle crushed eggshells around the base of your plant. The sharp edges deter them.

    Let me know if any of these things work!

  2. Cutworms always take a toll on my spring garden. It works to wrap a paper collar around the stem, or to poke little sticks around the plant, up close to the stem. Toilet tissue rolls cut into thirds and slit up one side wrap easily, too.

  3. I did the toilet tissue rolls around my peppers and eggplants this Spring as a preventative measure. The cutworms did their damage elsewhere.

    After seeing those holes I now know what was eating my carrot seedlings. I had those holes everywhere!

  4. Lisa A. - Thanks for the great info! This little fellow was about an inch and a half in length. What he lacked in size, he made up for in creepiness.

    Annie's Granny - I will definitely be trying the paper collar around my beats! In the back of my mind, I was thinking up some complicated remedy. What they say is probably true - the simplest remedies are probably the best.

    Kelly - carrot seedlings are starting to disappear to. since I have them growing in pretty straight rows, I think I'm gonna try putting up some sort of cardboard barrier on each side.

  5. I haven't seen a cutworm since South Africa. They're awful!

  6. Yep, we have plenty of cutworms too and they are destructive buggers. We make plastic collars by cutting the bottoms out of yogurt containers or the middle section from plastic water/drink bottles. These are then sunk about 2 inches into the ground around the base of the plant.