Cauliflower, part of the cabbage family, is a popular vegetable that grows in nearly all parts of the U.S. Not only do people find the vegetable tasty, many types of insects prefer to eat cauliflower as well. Many varieties of pests are known to wipe out entire crops of cauliflower. However, infestations can be prevented when proper precautions are taken.
These beetles measure about 1/10-inch and get their name because they jump about like a flea when disturbed. The flea beetle can wreak havoc on a cauliflower patch by eating its leaves and leaving a shot like pattern of holes. The beetles are often one of the first insects to begin feeding on plants, emerging as early as April. Flea beetle prevention includes tilling your garden and laying down a layer of black plastic mulch a couple months prior to planting. To curb an infestation, organic insecticide such as neem can be sprayed on the plants.
Imported cabbage worms are very common and prefer cauliflower as a main food source. The female butterflies lay their eggs underneath plant leaves, leaving the resulting caterpillars to eat the vegetables. Starting with the leaves, the caterpillar's eat their way into the head of cauliflower from the bottom up, making it difficult to catch early on if not monitored closely. The insect's leave behind excrement that can stain the cauliflower head and render it inedible. Prevention of the pests include covering plants with row covers and picking off any leaves that are found with pupa on them.
Harlequin bugs are generally found throughout the southern part of North America, where they are known to destroy entire crops of cauliflower if not prevented. The bugs can kill a cauliflower by draining it of it's juices, literally sucking the life out of the plant. These bugs also emerge early in the planting season, usually within the first couple days of the warm part of spring. Hand-picking of the leaves where Harlequin eggs are laid is the most effective way of eliminating an infestation. The eggs are found underneath of the leaves and are white in color with a black ring and spot.
Slugs are a very common pest in gardens that feed on cauliflower. The gastropods are attracted to conditions that most gardens thrive on, such as compost and high moisture levels. Not only do the slugs munch on cauliflower leaves, making it vulnerable to disease, but the slime that they leave behind can cause damage as well. Many gardeners have found that leaving dishes of beer around their cauliflower plants attract the slugs and trap them. Other means of slug control are using drip irrigation and minimizing organic compost.
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