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. Oh I know this ecological gardening battle well. I always feel guilty when I allow the gardening me to win!!

    Well almost always. This year it’s not caterpillars but black fly that’s my challenge. Don’t feel any guilt over removing black fly!!

    As you say all about perspective. Great post

    1. I get the green ones. In the War of the Roses and Greenflies, the greenflies win hands down if I do not intervene, which I don’t like doing.

      1. Usually the ladybirds and blue tits do a fine job for me, but this year not a ladybird to be seen and the blue tits are focusing on the sunflower hearts!

  2. Lovely butterflies. We let live. We let natural predators take care pests. I let the milkweed grow for the Monarchs and Queens.

    1. I get the feeling you have a good deal more land than I do. 🙂 The cabbage whites do not have too many cabbages or peas to choose from where I live, so they all come down for mine.

  3. We haven’t noticed such damage from butterflies here, but caterpillars were in evidence in Minstead, just a few miles further inland. Splendid photographs.

  4. Another reason why I don’t bother having a ‘proper’ garden – any plants/flowers in mine have arrived by accident of nature and I just let them get on with it, so if they provide food/shelter for various creatures that’s fine. A shame about your peas, I hope the rest survive – love the butterflies though 🙂

    1. There are peas but they are awfully thin and we haven’t been having much sunshine to perk them up since they were devoured. At least they are getting rained on regularly. A prize-winning vegetable grower told me plenty of water is the secret of growing peas.

  5. Live and let live. A noble motto. I live by it selectively: the swallowtail caterpillars are welcome to my dill, but the Japanese beetles are welcome to nothing. I admire your forbearance and your fortitude in dealing with those marauders on your beautiful peas, and I do hope you get some harvest. Comfort food has never been more important. Beautiful photos, by the way!

  6. Susan, I feel for you. It’s a battlefield in the Edibles garden! My peas are very slow to flower this year, not a single bloom in sight yet. And hardly a mark on any leaf either. I think that having my plants raised about 2 feet off the ground helps keep the pests off. But the soil gets very warm when the sun shines and salads and beetroots just will not grow for me. Beautiful photos!

    1. Thanks for the sympathy! I hope yours will stay unmarked. My mum gave me a tiny packet of beetroot seeds she got free from M&S, so I am growing them, but I am not holding out too much hope.

  7. When it comes to food plants, it definitely feels like a case of ‘us against them.’ “They” are much better players than I am, for sure. 😉

    1. I have even managed to convert a couple of small onions into flowers. I left them too long and they shooted out so I decided to plant them. They are more gangly than beautiful, but I’ll take whatever I can get!

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