Slippery slope time: I have a gardening secret, one whose use still causes me some great shame. Like all secret shames, though, there’s a sweet upside to it.
My secret? Bt. Bacillus thuringiensis, technically. This naturally-occurring soil bacterium has a sharp, crystalline structure that when ingested by caterpillars is quite lethal. My aim is one particular caterpillar: those of the dreaded cabbage moth. Those bloody things make any and all of my brassicas poop-covered, leafless stems if I gave them a chance. Hah! No chance, no quarter.
You must understand that using this stuff is an absolute last stop with me. All other insect and bug pests get squished between my fingers during my twice-daily trips to the garden. With the exception of tomato hornworms (too big to squish and too valuable as chicken food) the swarms of Colorado potato beetles, squash bugs and bean beetles all meet the wrath of my finger and thumb. It’s no wonder I always wear garden gloves, and even then that’s not a guarantee I won’t get grossed out…should I describe the arc that potato nymph guts will take? Toward one’s eye, always. Perhaps a face mask is recommended.
Anyway, back to the powder. I go to great lengths otherwise to avoid the cabbage moth butterfly. All (and I do mean all) of my cabbage family crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, and the zany Asian voodoo mashup veg of which I am so fond) grow under row covers in the warm months and are behind butterfly-proof screen within the greenhouses during the cold months. This means about a third of my outdoor garden beds are covered with white cloth…not exactly pretty or natural, but, hey, I’ve gone on about the barrier method before.
The folks at the Fruit Exchange laughed at me, though, when I put the bag on the counter. They know I grow organic. And they know that I think this bag of stuff is really straddling a fence…it’s natural, but it’s far from its natural form. “Things that bad, eh?” said the big guy in the overalls who always helps me. “You know, I’ve got stronger stuff if you need it,” pointing to the odoriferous poison aisle. (This is the same guy who, the last time I saw him, said “How many bales can you get in that thing,” he asked, pointing at my ancient VW Golf. “Five, if I use the front seat,” I replied. “Well, Jeff Foxworthy says you know you’re a redneck when you know how many haybales fit in your car,” yeah, lots o yuks.)
So I use the stuff only sparingly and in a reactive way: only AFTER I see them does the powder come out. It takes a day for the f*ckers to eat sh*t and die, but…all I need to do is hose the food off and it’s edible. I still keep the covers on so no other creature from the order Lepidoptera gets affected. And yes, it’s easier than squishing…and just as sickly satisfying, come to think of it.