Keeping cabbage white butterflies away from the vegetable bed

Tiffany Daneff / 11 August 2016

With a cabbage white infestation in her vegetable garden, Tiffany Daneff is forced to upgrade her butterfly netting.

It’s high summer… sun, drought, sudden rain, wind. The garden is turbo charged. Plants are growing so fast that they are flopping over the lawn and over themselves. Meanwhile the insect and microbial world is at its most active.

Butterfly trouble

I mentioned a couple of blogs back that I had spotted a handful of cabbage white butterflies floating around the vegetable plot and after the year before last’s hideous infestation in which every leaf had been stripped by a green army of caterpillars I had rushed a veil of netting over the kale and salad leaves. Amazingly, this has stopped the egg laying already. It just goes to show that if you move fast enough, you can stop trouble in its tracks. However, it has made me realise the necessity of getting some sturdy netting supports in place. My haphazard system of hazel poles is just not up to the job.

For the last three years, in fact ever since we first came here, I have been sticking the hazel poles in the ground, one at each corner of the vegetable beds and then hanging butterfly netting over the top. But the trouble is that the ground here is rock solid and not just because we garden on clay. Generations of builders have used the area of the veg garden as a dumping ground for their rubble. This makes it really difficult to push the poles in deep enough and by the end of the growing season several will have become wobbly. This means the whole structure has to be rebuilt each spring.

Traditional hazel versus tubular steel

I like using hazel because it’s local, traditional and looks lovely. I had been inspired to do so by a visit to a local garden that opens for the village fete. This garden has a wonderful hazel structure over its veg beds. The poles are clearly knocked in pretty deep and each join is neatly topped with small terracotta flower pots to prevent people poking their eyes out. It’s very smart in a low-fi kind of way. I’ve tried the same but I am always in too much of a hurry to do things properly consequently the flower pots I use just topple off their perches at the first breath of wind and whenever I try hammering in the poles the ruddy things snap because I haven’t sharpened the ends properly.

The hazel poles are the perfect example of the perennial battle I have with myself (both outdoors and inside) over always using material that’s hanging around rather than buying new stuff partly because I am penny pinching but mainly because it looks nicer. (Another example is not getting a water butt because I didn’t want to succumb to plastic.) So it was with a heavy heart that I reached the conclusion that life is too short (and I just don’t have the time) to rebuild wobbly hazel structures every year (not to mention having to fix them back in place whenever the wind blows them over.)

The perfect solution

After looking around I plumped for some purpose designed galvanized tubular steel hoops which arrived on Friday.

For two six foot long beds I bought six high top hoops, eight linking poles and some plastic clips to hold the netting in place. A total of £123 from Harrod Horticultural.

I could have ordered some steel ground anchors too but as that was another ninety odd quid I decided to hold off those and try without. Lucky I did. The hoops pushed into the ground like a knife into cake. Erecting them was a doddle. Adding the poles was simplicity itself and clipping the netting into place was a joy. The whole business took two of us less than 15 minutes, I’d guess. The husband doesn’t do DIY – he can’t even open a flatpack box - but even he managed these. I don’t think I have ever been so pleased with the result. Made to measure kits rarely turn out better than you imagine but this has.

If you garden you’ll know how frustrating it is to have spent ages sowing and planting out and watering and weeding only for a slip of a butterfly to come along and destroy all your work overnight. You’ll also know how maddening it is when plant supports bend and flop, or how annoying it is to become tangled up in garden netting. All that is in the past. Best of all you can leave the poles in place if you want to, you can take them with you if you move, and because they are so easy to put together you can store them in the shed without the dread of having to erect them again in the spring.

New sturdy butterfly netting

The new, much sturdier, butterfly netting

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