Live And Let Live?

Golden butterfly on yellow zinnia

We all love butterflies, don’t we?

Last year, my sweetheart grew garden peas because he knows my fondness for their sweet spheres of joy. He stripped the plants of caterpillars, chased off butterflies and eventually bought netting to throw over them. Unfortunately, he took the netting back to Mississippi.

We did not exclude all caterpillars so fiercely – we grew some Senicio cineraria that were home to small, black and red Cinnabar moths (not pictured here). Lots of them. Their caterpillars turned out to be a little on the mean side, eating each other and completely annihilating the plants by the end of the year.

To my surprise, the Senicio plants came up fine this year and now seem to be resistant to the moths. A few have appeared but they have not been laying eggs so far and the moths look sickly. Could the plants have found a way to repel them by chemical means? Having recently been reading about plant intelligence, I wouldn’t put it past them.

But back to the garden peas. As lockdown started, I dug out the leftover seed packet and planted as many peas as I thought could survive in an old bag of compost I found in the shed, determined to grow a little bit of comfort food.

Butterflies on a rose

I could perhaps have ordered some netting online, but during the peak of the spread here, I did not think the postal workers should risk their lives to bring me something to protect perhaps 15 pea plants. With the best will in the world, they were a treat not a source of self-sufficiency.

I’m not a natural vegetable or fruit grower so, having ummed and aahed over the need for netting, I decided I’d share my peas with any creatures that came around. Live and let live kind of thing. Other than watering them religiously, and providing them with pea sticks gathered on my walks, I left the peas to it. Recently I noticed creamy buds opening – the time was near.

And so it worked out until it stopped being so sunny and started to rain with determination. For several days I didn’t go near my peas.

When I did – shock, horror! Any vegetable growers out there know all about this: my poor plants were the remains of yesterday’s lunch. Many leaves were skeletons. Small mouths had even started eating a few of the pods before their time. The slender pods so far left alone were trying to swell peas but whether they can ripen without plenty of leaves remains to be seen.

Black butterfly

Reluctantly, kneeling in light drizzle, I inspected the plants. A good sized caterpillar was hiding inside most of the tender growing shoots and buds, and there were others hanging on behind many of the leaves. They ranged from big to minute to mere clusters of eggs. I had several different types, but most were green ones, presumably Cabbage Whites.

Lovely in one way, not so lovely if you think plants have life force as well as butterflies, or if you want peas.

Gritting my teeth, I abandoned my principles, set aside my squeamishness and collected up all I could find, dropping them with a few tattered leaves in a jar. Later, I set them ‘free’ on some dock leaves and hospitable-looking vegetation in a field of spare land on my walk.

Not their first choice of food, so I doubt they’ll survive, but they had a small chance. My peas? Well, I’m sure I will get some, but I’ll have to watch them more carefully for the next fews days, rain or no rain. A few caterpillars fell off in the gathering process, and rolled out of sight, evading capture, and I’m sure I’ll have missed a good few of the eggs and the tiny ones.

Meanwhile, my perspective on butterflies and moths? They’re lovely, but. You know the but!

Caterpillar eaten leaf
Garden pea leaf after attention of caterpillars – by no means the worst

The butterfly and moth mothers, and the caterpillars themselves would have a different perspective.

Disclaimer: The insects pictured here are innocent of crimes against foliage in my garden, not being UK types. 

Shared to help kick off Becky’s July Squares: Perspectives.

44 Replies to “Live And Let Live?”

  1. I have the same love/hate relationship with the deer in my neighborhood. We spray rotten egg yolk and water on the plants the deer like. Neighbors don’t appreciate it but I get flower blooms that they enjoy. I don’t grow roses because the Japanese beetles eat them before they bloom.

    1. The things we have to do to garden! I once met a Japanese lady who washed all the soil off her potted roses each year and gave them new soil, but that would be a step too far for me.

  2. It is so sad when a crop is eaten up like that but I admire you for carrying them off rather than dispatching them on the spot! It does seem annual crops are more susceptible to caterpillar damage, so perhaps you are right and some plants have developed strategies to make them less attractive. Plants are cleverer than we think! 😃

    1. I agree about the cleverness. I ate two pods full today just to be sure I got some. I ought to have been more patient, but they were sweet as anything. 🙂

  3. Oooh, grrr. At least vegetables only have a bit-part in your garden, so the rest will doubtless still be cheering you up and looking lovely.

  4. Yup, you got to the heart of the gardener’s dilemma. Here is my philosophy: I won’t harm a creature if it doesn’t come munching into my garden. On a walk, I will step over a slug or snail. I’m not so nice if I find them on one of my plants. I won’t go into details and instead will leave it to your imagination. 😉

    1. Your hostas would be in a bad way if you didn’t deter them. I’m not very kind to slugs either. Nor snails, but I don’t get many snails.

  5. Ha, ha. There is only so much one can handle. My parents are being inundated by gypsy moths. I don’t believe they have any redeeming qualities.

    1. It’s the white ones that are causing me most problems. You’d think evolution would stop them from completely destroying their hosts, but evidently not.

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