broccoli Organic Pest Control Vegetables

Growing Broccoli – Worm Control for the Organic Gardener

There’s nothing like the taste of broccoli fresh from the garden.  You can’t buy it in the store.  The taste is just not the same.

In spite of that, I’ve not given priority to raising broccoli because I need the space and time for food that will last me longer and go a lot further than broccoli. But for the 3rd time in 34 years I’m once again thinking about how wonderful it would be to have some broccoli fresh from the garden.

I have a spot in one of my borders where I’ve been improving the soil for the last few years and it just might accommodate at least 4 or 5 broccoli plants.

Also, in the fall I’ll have some available space in the garden and might put in some broccoli following a cover crop of buckwheat.

Growing Broccoli = Dealing with the Worms

If you grow broccoli you’re probably going to have to deal with the worms.  More than likely they’ll be the larvae of those little white butterflies you see flying around your garden.  There are 3 main ways to deal with these creatures depending on your schedule.

Method #1 – Light weight floating row covers keep the moth from getting to the broccoli to lay its eggs. I just lay the row covers loosely over the plants to allow for expansion as the broccoli grows tall.   You can use bricks or even straw or soil to anchor the material at the edges so nothing will get under it.

Once I plant and cover them, that’s all the work I have to do unless I want to check them to see how they’re doing. This is my favorite method of protection because it takes less time than any other method.

Tip: Sheer curtains make good row covers. Sometimes you can find them at Goodwill or a thrift shop.

Method #2 – If you only have a dozen or so plants hand picking will work. Start checking for eggs right after you plant. They are usually singles and usually on the underside of the leaf. They look like tiny yellow grains of rice standing on end.

If you’re not going to be able to do this everyday at first and then at least every 2 or 3 days, you need to use one of the other methods so they won’t get ahead of you.

Tip – Salt Water Bath to be Sure

With any method you use — especially the hand picking — it’s a good idea to give your harvested broccoli a salt water bath to get rid of worms that you may have missed. Place the broccoli upside down in the salt water (or vinegar water) bath, and the worms will float out.

Smack the heads against the edge of the pan or sink to drive out others. If your method of control has been hand-picking, you might even want to break the florets apart to expose ones that might be hidden.

Method #3 –  No matter what variety of worm is on your broccoli, they can be controlled with  BT (Bacillius thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki).

BT is a naturally occurring bacterium for insect control which is approved for use in organic gardens and is safe.   offers this product under the name Green Step.

BT is sprayed on. The worm ingests it, stops feeding immediately and dies in 2 or 3 days.

It is recommended that 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid detergent be used per gallon of spray mixture to insure adequate wetting of the leaf surface.  I read recently of molasses being used with the mixture instead of detergent. Either will  insure that the spray sticks to the leaf surface rather than beading up and rolling off.

Herbs Are Helpful
Rosemary or sage that is close to where broccoli is growing can be helpful in deterring the the moths that lay the eggs. A pot of mint placed close by is also said to be a deterrent.

Final Words

Pick the method of worm control that works best with your schedule.  Then treat yourself to a taste of garden fresh broccoli that you can’t get at the grocery store.
Green Step (BT) is available from Gardens Alive.
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and a lot healthier,
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  • Theresa,

    I have a tip concerning fighting the cabbage worm butterfly from a wonderful book written by a lady who barely survived a famine in Holland during the war in 1944-45. She was 5’8″ and at one point weighed only 75lbs.

    The book is One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein.

    She advised planting short posts on the 4 corners of the garden beds and threading some cutouts in the shape and size of the cabbage worn butterfly on string across the bed just above the plants.

    She said the cabbage worm butterfly will see the cutouts and think some other CWBs have taken up residence and will move on without laying eggs!

    I have the materials and I’m going to try it next spring because I’m tired of the CWBs eating A LOT of my kale!

    I’ll let you know if it works.


  • Did the cabbageworm butterfly cutouts on a string work to keep the CWBs away?

  • Rusty – it might take Betty a while to see this, but eventually she will reply.

  • Rusty, I’m sorry I didn’t see your question until now. I ended up buying the light weight floating row covers & covering my cabbage, broccoli & kale plants.
    I may try the cutouts this year if I’ve used all of my row covers for other problems.
    Thanks for asking. I’ve learned so much from Theresa AND other reader’s comments.

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