Brassicas and Butterflies

A wet weekend was forecast, punctuated with thundery showers, and indeed Saturday saw a few squalls pass through, so when I slipped into the garden after breakfast on Sunday it was with the anticipation of soon being driven into the greenhouse by rain.

Dahlia Chat Noir bloom

However, the sun shone, and clouds scuttled fast across blue skies, as I hauled a few weeds out of the ornamental borders, then set to some more intensive and long overdue weeding of the vegetable garden. Some eight hours later, tired of limb and with all our municipal garden waste bags overflowing, I finally took my leave of the garden. A satisfying day’s work, with just a brief pause early in the afternoon to make and eat a simple salad of goat’s cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, basil and borage flowers, all freshly picked from the garden or greenhouse – except the cheese of course. Moments like these are what summer is all about.

Homegrown salad: tomato, cucumber, basil and borage with goat's cheese

News reports that evening showed flash floods and downpours across the country, so remarkable good fortune had shone upon us all day, along with the sun. It was high time to tackle the weeds, some almost waist high, which threatened to take over the vegetable beds, and beneath the cabbage cages I found and removed dozens of tiny caterpillars, already starting to make holes in cauliflowers and the tallest Cavolo Nero. Fortunately these seemed to be the pale green caterpillars of the Small Cabbage White, which although harder to spot are laid singly rather than in clusters.

Cauliflowers, cabbages and other brassicas growing in cages

The black kale plants needed thinning while I was in amongst them, so I transplanted two unblemished plants to a position outside the full cages, where I must be particularly vigilant about checking for and removing caterpillars, as white butterflies wheel across the garden now whenever the sun shines. It’s not just Cabbage Whites sipping nectar from our flowers though; the usual hordes of small tortoiseshells are visiting regularly, and we’ve seen Commas in the garden for the first time. Verbena bonariensis seems to be the favourite port of call, even usurping the buddleia which is usually first choice.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on verbena, with Comma resting on fence

At the start of the weekend, the previously green and healthy remaining potato plants suddenly showed signs of blight, stems and foliage crumpling and turning brown almost as we looked at them, so while I tackled the undergrowth, King of the Hill dug up the remaining second earlies, Kestrel, and the maincrop Desiree potatoes. We laid them out on the potting bench in the greenhouse to dry, still fearful of imminent rain, turning them after about an hour, then put them into paper sacks to store.

Potato harvests (white Kestrel and red Desiree)

Considering the wet conditions this year, with high rates of slugs and snails ensuing to take advantage, the potatoes look remarkably unscathed. We have made two applications of slug nematodes to the vegetable garden after several years of tubers too riddled with damage to eat, and they seem to have done a remarkable job at protecting this crop against all the odds.

Potatoes drying in greenhouse; Desiree and Kestrel

The box of seeds that I carried down to the greenhouse, to sow some late crops and start some more perennials whenever the rain drove me indoors, was later carried back to the house untouched as I ran out of weekend. Unbelievably, there are still a few more hours of weeding to finish in the vegetable patch too, so if the evenings stay dry I will have plenty of work on my hands, although I half hope for a spell of rain to give me leave to stay indoors and watch some Olympic action.

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14 thoughts on “Brassicas and Butterflies

  1. I’m glad to hear that your nematodes worked well. Maybe the “specialist” ones are more effective than the general-purpose ones that I used.
    My Buddleia has some lovely blooms on it, but so far they have attracted precious few butterflies. Certainly not hordes.
    My second-crop (late-planted) Charlotte potatoes have picked up some blight now – maybe from the tomatoes – but it doesn’t look catastrophic yet. I think you did the right thing in lifting your spuds. The tubers look good.

    • This year has been a great test for the slug nematodes, and they do seem to have proven themselves. It’s early for butterflies, so hopefully they’ll find your Buddleia soon – otherwise plant some verbena!
      It was funny how quickly the blight moved in, after watching Gardener’s World on Friday night where he was digging up his blighted crops. He gardens on the borders of course, so a day or two later it moved into Wales and hit us here! We’re pleased with our potatoes though.

  2. Being stupid but isnt the cabbage house thingy meant to stop the caterpillars appearing? Lots of those covers at allotment but I am too lazy to put them up and havent bothered sowing cabbages this year!

    • It is indeed, but we reckoned without cats using it as a hammock or trampoline, and they’ve pulled the mesh away from the frame in a few places. It means that determined butterflies can find a way in, but hopefully the majority of them won’t!

  3. More good crops, well done beating the dreaded blight. Weeds do grow at an alarming rate. One consolation of the hot weather here is that EVERYTHING has stopped growing where there is no irrigation, including the weeds. Christina

    • Thanks, another close escape. I’ve just had an hour pulling weeds out of the front garden too, at least it is still dry and sunny here, though the winds are fierce again. It would be nice for the weeds to stop growing, especially chickweed, but I don’t envy you having to irrigate everything.

    • Thank you – neat and tidy in places ;).

      The Dahlia is Chat Noir, I haven’t managed yet to capture the depth of its colour, but it is sumptuous. (I accidentally knocked this stem off while weeding, so propped it up in the water in the boot scraper until I could take it in, it’s now in a vase on the windowsill!)

  4. Hasn’t been such a great year for spuds for us. Yields have been down compared to last year. Although I didn’t suffer any slug damage when I was harvesting I did notice the roots of the potatoes had started to rot.

    Gorgeous dahlia.

    • Sorry your harvests are suffering. It’s certainly our worst year for most crops, but we’ve still been rather lucky with what we have. The garlic rust probably only beat white rot by a few weeks after such a wet summer, our potato roots seemed ok so far, perhaps helped by our hilltop position encouraging draining!

  5. An excellent haul of spuds Sara. Glad you were able to fit in some gardening at the weekend. I was away for the weekend visiting my mum in East Anglia where we had some torrential rain and thunder on the Saturday. Looks as if the weather is going to be improving from tomorrow so not sure when I’m going to fit my Olympics viewing in. The photo of your salad is sending me into the kitchen right now for some lunch 🙂

  6. I’ve been harvesting potatoes too, Sara – so satisfying isn’t it? I used to work in a garden where all the brassicas were grown in a huge fruit cage to keep out the cabbage whites. Nevertheless I used to watch them (somehow) wriggle through the netting! Though I watched them do it, I couldn’t quite work out how they did it, Remarkable but true! D

    • V. satisfying. Hope you’re enjoying them!
      The first netting we put on our cabbages had mesh with gaps of a cm or so, and I watched the butterflies fold their wings just right so they could slip through. This time we have the much finer gauge enviromesh, which would be secure if it wasn’t for the pesky cats…

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