When I started growing Russian Kale a few years back, I was somewhat surprised at the deluge of harlequin bugs starting about June and into July. Boy, do they love Russian Kale!
Last year, although I hand checked and killed each day, the huge leaves looked so ratty that I finally decided to pull the plants and then plant more for fall when bugs wouldn’t be in such large numbers. From what I hear from readers, many take that same approach.
I planted again in the fall and the plants grew well and looked good, but they didn’t get as large as Russian Kale tends to get in the spring. I think I would have had more for the winter months if I had been able to winter over the larger plants from spring.
Attackers for This Year
My Russian Kale was attacked this year by the caterpillar that comes from the little white butterfly. (The same one that gets cabbage and broccoli.) In addition there were two other worms not identified. The harlequin bugs have only recently joined the party.
I was out last week doing my daily “check and kill” of bugs on the Kale and I came across what looked a lot like the cocoons of the braconid wasp that I’ve only seen on a tomato hornworm. There were a lot of them on the underside of numerous leaves and I wasn’t sure if they were really braconid wasp cocoons or not. I also saw some yellow ones.
Googling the Braconid Wasp
After I Googled and found these two sites, I was convinced they were in fact the pupae of the braconid wasp.
#1 – http://aussieorganicgardening.com/2009/08/cocoons-on-brassicas/
#2 – http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/braconid-wasps/ which mentioned that “Pupae: External cocoons are usually white or yellowish and fluffy.”
More Convincing Evidence of the Braconid Wasp
They next day, I found even more convincing evidence: The cocoons were on one of the caterpillars on a leaf of Russian kale! Those little caterpillars don’t hold a candle in size to the hornworm, but nonetheless the braconid wasp had found them, laid its eggs, which obviously had hatched and there were the cocoons of the pupae on the caterpillar.
A picture of that with this post would have been priceless, but by the time Bill got out to the garden later in the day with the camera, I couldn’t find the caterpillar with the cocoons.
Last year (as always) they took care of the tomato hornworms for me, but for some reason I didn’t have their help (to my knowledge) with these caterpillars on the kale last year.
After seeing all this, I decided to change my strategy with the kale.
My New Strategy
The kale plants have huge stalks that look fine. I cut off the leaves that looked really eaten up. I left those that were not too bad.
The bug invasion on the kale will soon be over due to the changing of the season, the braconid wasp, and my daily search-and-destroy task. I already see signs of the kale renewing itself with beautiful new leaves. So I should have some fully mature Russian Kale as well as newly planted kale to go into fall and winter.
It will be interesting to see how this little braconid wasp affects the number of caterpillars on my Russian kale next year. I’m delighted to have them helping me.
August 19, 2014 – IMPORTANT UPDATE – Wrong Conclusion?
I put this post up July 25th. After that my Kale made a strong comeback. It really looked great, lush and full with no bug eaten leaves.
Then about mid August, things took a turn for the worse. Within a matter days I had lots of the worms on the back of Kale leaves. All plants at various places throughout the garden were quickly eaten. They were far worse than they were earlier in the season.
It seems to me that if in fact those pictures in the post were of cocoons of Braconid Wasp, I would not have had this sudden invasion of worms (caterpillars).
If they were, instead, eggs of a one of the moths that lays eggs on back side of Kale leaves, that would certainly account for what happened.
I did about 30 minutes of looking around online. Didn’t find the information I was hoping to find to give me something definite. Even the pictures I found that were suppose to be the eggs of the cabbage moth did not look like what was on my kale leaves.
If I don’t come up with more information by next spring, I’ll have to rethink whether or not I’m going to allow these (cocoons or eggs?) to remain on the Kale. Or maybe I’ll just remove all the Kale from the garden when the invasion starts. (Not what I want to do!)
I even thought about taking one of the Kale leaves (next spring), putting it in a jar (cover the top with cheese cloth), and see what results.
If you know of anyone knowledgeable about this, I hope you’ll ask and let me know what answers you get. Anything we can find out, will help us all to make a decision next year. If they really are the braconid wasp cocoons, I sure don’t want to dispose of them.
Discrepancies in ids – Hornworms – Eggs or Cocoons?
Defense Against Garden Pest and Disease
Hornworms – Why you might Need a few in Your Garden
Organic Pest Control – Eliminate the Cause
Herbs – A Perennial to Attract Beneficials to Your Garden
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I had given up planting kale or broccoli in the spring because of the “cabbage moth” worms as I call them. Your post has me planning on trying this again.
I planted wormwood with my cabbage this year and the two heads on either side of the wormwood were not bug-riddled. Coincidence? I don’t know but will plant more of it next year and be more vigilant in daily bug picking!
If you put a floating row cover or insect screen over the plants, you will have bug-free kale.
Betty, that’s interesting about the wormwood. After a few years of that strategy, you’ll be able to tell if it’s coincidence or definitely the wormwood.
Glad you’re going to try kale again next year. I like it especially as we head into fall/winter.
Dan, yes, row covers are “THE” solution for bugs. However, I can’t give Russian Kale that kind of time and attention. Not to mention the fact that plants are scattered all over the garden rather than in one row. (They don’t have enough priority with me to have a row of their own.)
I have to pick and choose carefully the tasks I do because of the amount I have to tend and row covers are just more than I can handle most of the time. Depends on the plant and its status on my food supply list.
I am so glad for this post. I always wrestle with what are good pests and bad. I would not have thought these were good guys if I had discovered them on the under side of a vegetable leaf. Thanks for the great information.
I think all of us do that when we come across something in the garden that we are not familar with, Toni.
When I first encountered the nymphs of the leaffooted bug, I was afraid to kill them because I thought they might be beneficial. I went in and looked them up and found they were the bad guys and rush back out to kill them!
In other times past, I’ve found something, killed it first, only to find out it was good guy. Made me feel awful!
Glad this was helpful Toni.
I am just now beginning to see harlequin bugs. They showed up initially on the kale, only one or two at a time. But this morning I found and killed more on a cleome planted about three feet from the kale. I will need to be vigilant to keep up with their numbers, especially since we are having a hot, dry spell, stressing the plants. I will have to set my clock for 4:30, since it is back to work for me this week!
Due to the hundreds of cabbage butterflies in my garden, I have to either cover my kale or I don’t get any either. Covering works very well for me too, but it can be fiddly.
I was looking for photos of cocoons on kale and found yours. It is exactly like what I found today on the underside of a kale (or perhaps kohlrabi) leaf. I read your post with great interest and then saw your “update”. I am following your advice and have placed the entire cluster into a jar, covered with a paper towel until I can bring home some cheesecloth. I’ll let you know what eventually emerges. Or have you already done this? Do you now know what these are?
Thanks Donna! I can hardly wait to hear the results.
Well, they just hatched out today and they ARE in fact tiny black wasps! I have let them all go in the garden now, hope they’ll help keep down the flush of new cabbage caterpillars assaulting my kale. Need all the help I can get!
Thank you so much Donna for taking time to post the outcome! I’m thrilled to know that they are in fact the wasp!
Makes the post complete.
Very helpful to me–had the same cocoons on some lacinato kale. Thanks, Theresa and to Donna for following up with that experiment!
I just found one that looks very similar to the picture you posted. I am going to put it in a jar to see what hatches. I feel like I’m back in elementary school.
Can hardly wait to hear what hatches Lucy!
I’ll be waiting.