The pesticide free cabbage problem

Pieris brassicae

Large white with deformed wings

The last couple of weeks, I learned a valuable lesson, while taking care of the Large White caterpillars; it’s not very easy to determine if vegetables are really organic and pesticide free. In fact; even organic products can be a big risk for insects like caterpillars. This really worries me.

Save plants

At first, I bought some cabbage plants to feed the caterpillars. According to the plant breeder, they don’t contain any chemicals against caterpillars early in the season (unfortunately, later on they do treat them with chemicals) and indeed these turned out to be completely safe. But the little cabbage plants were not big enough to provide enough food for the voracious caterpillars, so I bought some organic cabbage at a local supermarket. This also seemed to work.

Organic shop

Later, someone told me there is an organic vegetable store in the village I live in. This store was a lot closer to my home than the supermarket where I bought the organic cabbage, so I decided to take a look right away. The owner cultivates all the vegetables himself and they ensured me that the cabbage was 100% pesticide free and save for the caterpillars to eat. However, something started to go wrong with the caterpillars very quickly; some of them died, had issues with pupating, some of the pupae died and some butterflies had deformed wings or had problems getting out of their cocoon.

Feeding my own plants again

Meanwhile, the cabbage plants had grown quite a bit, so I decided to do a little experiment; I was going to feed the third and last group of caterpillars exclusively with cabbage leaves from my own garden of which I was 100% sure they were completely pesticide free and save. I noticed a clear difference; the enclosure was a lot less messy, it didn’t smell as bad as it did before, and there were not deaths. All caterpillars developed into health butterflies. Because I had a lot of questions, I contacted the Vlinderstichting, the Dutch Butterfly Association. They told me that the deaths and deformities could be caused by cabbage that is treated with chemicals.

Disturbing situation

I don’t want to blame the organic vegetable store for this. It could also be that the seeds were treated with chemicals or the ground they grow their plants on contains chemicals they don’t know about. But I’m pretty shocked about the effects this can have on butterflies. If they can get severe deformities, what will happen to our bodies if we eat a large amount of cabbage that contains these chemicals? I’d rather not think about that. I’m planning to put some new pesticide free plants in my garden next year, so the Large white butterflies have at least one save spot to deposit their eggs. That’s the least I can do…

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