Pools of water accumulate under the cold water pipes in the basement; the humidity is so great that the pipes drip continually, and the toilet tanks sweat puddles. In the laundry room the floor is hardwood, stained dark now with condensation, making us question the wisdom of leaving this area untiled. Working in the garden under a sun intensified by haze, one asks oneself repeatedly whether a sane person would be doing this.
The broccoli has been kept under row covers to protect it from cabbage moths, which lay their eggs on the leaves, these hatching out into tiny bright green caterpillars. These worms eat little, but are indistinguishable from the broccoli buds in their tight florettes, and are often the cause of a promising dish of broccoli going from the steamer directly to the pigs, as the cook tries to get them out of the house before anyone sees she has almost served them a head of broccoli garnished liberally with firm, juicy pale green caterpillars (the color fades when they are cooked). Experiences like this one have caused more than one family member of a gardener to swear he will never again eat anything that didn’t come from the store in a sealed plastic wrapper. A prudent gardener-cook is ever anxious to avoid compromising her reputation.
So, the broccoli has been kept under a floating row cover, this being the method used by our neighbor Mick, proprieter of Bluebird Farms, an organic market garden farm selling in three cities, to keep his broccoli worm-free. It probably works, too, for people who get under the cover regularly to weed and check the progress of their vegetables’ growth, but we wonder: how can cabbage moths be prevented from touching down on the broccoli plants while the cover is up? What is to keep a wandering moth – and this time of year they flutter around our vegetable and flower gardens like sequins on an opera diva’s evening dress – from landing on a briefly exposed plant and laying a few random eggs?
We’d like to know, because today when we opened one of our tunnels, what we found inside seemed proof that an enterprising cabbage moth had done just that. Three plants with leaves riddled with holes, or eaten down to just the pale center rib of the leaf, and everywhere the dark green litter that is a caterpillar’s feces. Only two caterpillars to be seen, but these large, fat and healthy – for the moment. The wire pen holding the five replacement Sussex chicks has been shifting over the lawn, and chickens love caterpillars. Hence it is an easy thing to deal with the two caterpillars we have found; but now we are faced with the usual dilemma we associate with un-row-covered broccoli. The broccoli florettes look innocent of even the smallest caterpillar, but these larvae are clever at hiding, and there is no way to be sure that the plant is not really a baby caterpillar condo, except by cooking it. In the end, this is what we did. Three waterlogged and stiff as sausage cabbage worms are then discovered by inspection and dealt with surreptitiously, the broccoli is doused with ranch dressing, and we eat it, only the cook knowing we are not the first partakers in this dish.
Mom eats of it only lightly. Might we not next year just skip the broccoli and raise green beans instead?