Tales from the Farm – The Hungry Hungry Caterpillars

Through no one’s fault but my own, we’re battling an infestation of caterpillars and white fly in our brassica bed. I HATE caterpillars.

“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.

If you’ve been following this blog and our journey, you’ll know that Mrs Jez and I applied to the Soil Association to licence our farm as organic. We’re currently in the “conversion” process, which means we document our planting, growing and management activities and have inspections to ensure that we’re upholding organic farming principles – essentially not putting any nasties into the ground like pesticides, fungicides etc.

We’ve found the whole process quite cathartic and learnt so much over the past 6 months, not just about organic gardening and farming but about food, soil, the ecosystem and just how critical it is for us to be aware of where our food comes from and exactly what we’re putting into our bodies.

We’ve been happily plodding along and enjoying the steep learning curve (having never grown anything before, let alone organically). Until this past weekend when I noticed that the butterfly netting I’d put around the brassica bed (we’re growing cavalo nero, purple sprouting broccoli and calabrese) had come untied. As I approached the bed to tie the net back into position, I noticed that something had been nibbling at the leaves of our plants. A closer inspection revealed not just a nibble, nay a feast they had been having! Holes everywhere, edges ruined, scars on the stalks and some plants reduced to mere green sticks poking pathetically out of the soil. Dear reader I’ll not lie – I was livid.

Not much closer inspection revealed caterpillars, touring their tiny tummies in the midday sun. Plump green ones and yellow and black ones in all stages if life; from eggs to tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny young all the way through to (presumably) adult.

If we weren’t organic growers, we might have reached for the bottled pesticides to kill them off. And I will admit that it would have been the easiest and quickest course of action – a few sprays of a specially prepared chemical would have killed all of the arrogant munchers. However, that’s not an option available to me, so as I began the long task of picking off the caterpillars by hand and rubbing away the eggs, I began to reflect on how I’d got myself into this sorry state. The bucket quickly filled with caterpillars and they must have known what “the bucket” meant, as they each frantically began climbing up the sides. I emptied the bucket onto the bird table (so far the birds have been quite friendly and not eaten any of my plants, thus the criminal caterpillars were something of a reward for them) and returned to the vegetable garden to continue my manual pest control. Of course it was entirely my fault: had I prepared the bed properly, I would have ensured the butterfly netting was set a little further back from the crop so that butterflies couldn’t land on the leaves and when the netting was closed, could have ensured it was properly fastened. That would have kept all of the butterflies off and I wouldn’t have any problems at all with caterpillars.

With that better preparation, there is absolutely no need for pesticides – it’s not my fault for choosing organic gardening that gave me a caterpillar infestation: humans are pretty quick to blame others, or blame circumstance for our failing or when things don’t go according to plan, we’re quick to point the finger and find fault elsewhere. However, the lesson learnt is greater when we learn the hard way; it’s somehow appreciated more because of the hardship or struggle – however superficial – that we go through.

Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing. Ambassadors include broadcasters Kate Humble and the Soil Association. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes visit 


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