Caterpillars – Love ’em, Hate ’em, Live with ’em

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It’s hard to hate the caterpillar. Maybe because there’s something Alice In Wonderland about it or because it’s such an odd word. Maybe because it is often hairy and not slimy like slugs or creepy like earwigs or because of its alien-like (or are aliens like caterpillars?) life-cycle; they go from the egg to larva (the caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to the butterfly (which delights us all) and carry on like that ad infinitum. David Attenborough told us in July that butterflies were having their worst year since the 70s ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/12/david-attenborough-butterfly-count ), though apparently not these cabbage butterflies (see the happy collection of their caterpillars below).

Caterpillars can do a lot of damage to leafy plants and organically-inclined gardeners have a constant battle with wanting to save our precious brassicas (kill the caterpillar!) and wanting to save the planet (don’t kill the caterpillar!). The one in the picture above (soon to be/previously a cabbage butterfly) has decided, with its friends or relatives, to vary its diet and feast on nasturtiums. Caterpillars can get through a lot of leaves, and that inhibits the plants’ ability to photosynthesise. It also means there is less leaf for you to eat.

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I’m willing to sacrifice the nasturtiums (they are strangling my herbs anyway) and even the kale (who needs kale in summer?) but not my red cabbage. So what do I do? What I should have done, the organic gardener’s first resort, is to check the leaves more often so that I could spot and squish the eggs. I could also have killed the caterpillars at this stage and then composted them. I was too squeamish for that. The last resort would be to spray with a microbial pesticide which contains living micro organisms (such as bacillus thuringiensis Bt) which will kill the caterpillar through its gut. It is safe for other insects, so less damaging environmentally than usual pesticides. But I’m not going to do that. My airy fairy idea is that this caterpillar population explosion will provide delicious and nutritious food for birds and beetles and that a balance between the caterpillar’s role as pest and and as food will come.

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Gluts

It’s that time again. The time you think will never come so in the spring you plant one more of this and one more of that. The weather this year has been particularly challenging – cold winds battering seedlings, followed by cold and persistent rain which stunted the growth of warm climate plants and then brought forth the snail invasion. They, along with their cousins the slugs, started eating things they didn’t normally bother with – like hairy baby courgettes. So you sow one or two extra and what do you end up with but courgettes coming out of your ears. Now, I long for courgettes in January and, although I try to eat seasonally, I might sneak one into my shopping basket. Such a treat. But in August I’m sick of them… I have fried them, steamed them, baked them, roasted them, pickled them, put them in cakes, fritters, soups, sauces, muffins. I thought, therefore, that I’d put some simple recipes down.

The simplest way to cook courgettes is to saut̩ them slowly with garlic. You can toss them in a bit of flour. Add black pepper and lemon juice Рor Japanese ume sauce which really perks them up. Elizabeth David has another simple classic way, which is to slice them (2kg for 4-6 people), salt them and leave them to stand for 30 minutes in a colander. This stops them soaking up too much oil. They may need rinsing if they are too salty. Cook them in 125g of butter on a very low heat. Add half a kilo of peeled and chopped tomatoes after about ten minutes and cook for another ten minutes.

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This next very easy recipe was given to me by an American friend.

Zucchini Bread

Mix:

3 Eggs
1 cup oil
At least 1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups zucchini (grated and drained)
1 tsp vanilla

Add:

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda/ bicarb
3 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Mix all together and bake in a well-buttered dish at 375F for 45 mins.

I did have a recipe for grated courgette fritters with feta but I can’t find it. Will carry on the search and update this as it’s a good one and uses up a lot of them.