It is important to discard any childhood misconceptions you may have about butterflies. No doubt they are pretty creatures, but they are not pretty when it comes to the vegetable garden. In particular, the white ones with the distinguishable black spot on one wing are nothing but trouble, hatching destructive green caterpillars that have a taste for sweet, cool-season crops.

The real strength of the white cabbage moth is its stealth. Its caterpillars are green – exactly like the foliage of your plants – and extremely difficult to spot. But when your eyes shift focus, there they are, all over your kale and broccoli and rocket (arugula) and their namesake, cabbage, getting fatter and fatter as each day passes.

As soon as you begin to spot the caterpillars, you realise what the black little dots are that collect in the stems of your plant. That’s right, their shit! The eating habits of the caterpillars and breeding frequency of the moths are both so supreme that overnight – quite literally – a few tiny green caterpillars will transform into a green shitting army of brassica-eating machines.

Optimal Conditions

The warm and relatively dry conditions of mid-autumn (and mid-spring) are their time to party.


Quickly decimated brassica plants, with tiny black droppings in the base of the stems.


The moths are territorial, so dummy butterflies should deter them from laying their larvae. But if you’re serious about preventing them, it’s worth putting fine netting over the patch that will restrict landing space for the moths to lay their larvae. Make sure the netting is fine enough to prohibit them from entering the veggie patch and is not draped over the plants themselves, as this will render the netting useless.


A search and destroy mission is useful. We like to reward our kids for caterpillar kills


If you turn your back and things have gotten out of hand, dipel bacillus thuringiensis– a bio-insecticide spray – will drastically reduce their numbers. A couple of sprays, a few days apart when it is not raining, will kill all living caterpillars. But to ensure they don’t come back, netting needs to be constructed.

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