A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Love the Butterfly, Hate the Caterpillar

A bright yellow lace fluttering through my line of sight, seemingly
pushed by the slightest movement of the air
. My family is having dessert on the front lawn, on this beautiful, cool evening. My wife is over talking to the woman who just had twins, while my son contemplates his escape on a bike. My daughter and I follow the path of this fairy. There seem to be a few
butterflies staying around the house, attracted by some of the flowers here. I probably like watching the dragonflies more, but butterflies are wondrous creatures.

However, this is an aspect of this creature that I despise: the caterpillar. You cannot have one without the other, but I do long for my
vegetables and other plants to be spared from these ravenous beasts. You may not have thought about this fact, but you may have many edible plants in your gardens that you look upon as ornamentals. Kale is one such plant, that is popular in this regard. There are other plants, like gingers, which are quite tasty to these voracious eaters, so you can easily find that the colorful foliage that you have prized is being eaten away.

My first step is to never turn to pesticides. My children have grown up eating directly from the vegetable beds, so I do not want a poison there for them to ingest. I try taking these pests off of my plants by hand to throw them away. I have also used a method of interplanting various species of plants, so I do not have a monoculture. The butterflies sometimes pass by plants to lay their eggs, because they are misdirected by the other plants, or at the very least, I do not have all of my plants of one type attacked. I spread cedar mulch today. The scent is said to drive insects away, like the cedar used in your closets. I have used this before, and it has worked, but in the past, I found that this mulch was expensive. The price has come down, so it is around the same cost as other hardwood mulches. Be sure you are buying cedar and not cypress mulch. If these counter measures have not succeeded, I turn to BT (bacillus thurengensis). It does not effect humans, but it will wreak havoc on caterpillars.

There are a few other organic solutions , like a soap and water spray, but the above steps have worked for me. If you are interested in other means to control some pests in your garden (and you are in Houston), I should direct you to Southwest Fertilizer on Bissonnet. They have the whole gamut of supplies for your garden at good prices. I have found that staff to be knowledgeable about the products, so they can help find the right concoction for your problem. They have good vegetables for sale too. I particularly like the fact that I can obtain organic fertilizers in bulk here at a good price.

Enjoy your butterflies, but let the caterpillars plague someone else, or just on spot of your garden, set aside for them.

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