Lianne
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Location: Grapevine, TX

Feeling discouraged. caterpillars ruining garden :(

Could use a little encouragement if there is any to offer at this point...

I have a small 4x8' raised bed, and I've put a lot of money, effort, and love into it thus far.

I've *attempted* to grow carrots, radishes, garlic, onions, bush beans, romaine, a few pepper varieties, and an eggplant. I also have basil and cilantro which are nice and healthy.

i sowed my bush beans two weeks ago, they came up fast, strong and healthy in about a week. Honestly, it was the produce I was most looking forward to. The seedlings were about 3-4" tall, some of the biggest already with 2" leaves. In the last 3 or 4 days, caterpillars have eaten almost every single plant down to its stem, some even down to a nub that is level with the soil.

I sowed radish seeds about a month before the beans. the seedlings were also growing fast, but once I thinned them, they too were eaten down to stems/nubs.

my eggplant has gaping holes, and my pepper plants have smaller but numerous holes.

so far they haven't messed with romaine, herbs, garlic or onion (last two, probably because of odor?) but i would be so disappointed to put all of this effort and hope into a garden that only produces some bulbs...

I go check the garden every morning when I wake up and every evening when I get home from work, and no matter how many i pick off, there are caterpillars on EVERY plant by the time i arrive, just sitting there FEASTING.

will neem oil repel them? i also heard of a garlic-pepper spray. which is more effective?

For the seedlings of which they've eaten off most of the leaves (bean and radish), is hope lost or might they re-grow themselves? should I just pull all of the sad little nubs, spray neem oil on everything, and try re-sowing seeds again?

I'm feeling so defeated :(

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rainbowgardener
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Sorry you are having such a hard time! I think a lot of the places that had an unusually warm winter this winter will now have an unusual infestation of insects and other pests.

I think the best thing for caterpillar type pests is Bt (bacillus thuringiensis, sold as Thuricide or Dipel). It is a disease spore that only infects caterpillar/ worm type pests and is harmless to everything else in the environment.

You can also dust with diatomaceous earth which is sharp shells of almost microscopic diatoms. It kills the small things that crawl over it, just by mechanical action of cutting them.

The things that have been eaten down to nubs are finished and you will have to replant, once you have taken care of the problem.

A longer term solution, that won't help today, but will improve your garden in the long run is to have bird houses, bird baths, and bird feeders. If you had a bunch of birds in your yard, they would be feasting on all those 'pillars!

"carrots, radishes, garlic, onions, bush beans, romaine, a few pepper varieties, and an eggplant. I also have basil and cilantro which are nice and healthy. " Was/ is all that stuff in ONE 4x8' bed? Sounds a bit crowded...
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Lianne
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Location: Grapevine, TX

thank you, i will sprinkle diatomaceous earth and see if that helps, also will look into Bt. I guess I will pull all of the gonners and re-sow in a week or two after I've tried some of this out.

it is a lot for a 4x8 bed, but when i say i was trying all those things, they were all in small quantities... i wanted to do this garden for my fun/enjoyment and if i got a little produce out of it, it would be like the bonus at the end! But now I'm feeling discouraged that there won't be anything but dead plants in the end :(

when I say i sowed carrots, i mean i was hoping for about 3 or 4 carrots, same with garlic and onions, only growing about 6 each, and theyre growing nicely along the edges of the garden. I only have 2 romaines growing, and one eggplant. The biggest space-eater has got to be the pepper plants for now... it may seem silly or pointless to have so few of everything, but it's just me enjoying the fruits of the labor (hopefully) and i thought the variety would keep it exciting. :)

I have a separate container with patio tomato plant which is doing nicely (have 4 tomatoes on there, but havent turned colors yet), and a page mandarin tree right now in a 20 gal pot with lots of room to grow yet.

Lianne
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Location: Grapevine, TX

well, a day has passed and now nearly the entire garden is ruined. the caterpillars are completely out of control. they've eaten EVERYTHING. they even ate the marigolds i planted around the outside of the garden down to nubs/stems. last night i found three of them crawling around in my living room too. sorry pillars, there's no greens inside for you!

they've even begun eating my young little onions. several greens growing out of the onions were severed right in half, and i found two munching away happily on them just now.

they chewed right through the eggplant, stripping its main stem of its outer layer in several places, exposing the insides, and the poor thing has flopped over and wilted (with what little leaves it had left).

There's nothing left of the beans or radish.

So far, my pepper plants are hanging on, but are covered in tiny holes.

I'm thinking of just pulling everything out that's been ruined so far and giving up for several weeks to see if this problem goes away. there is no point in spending more money on seeds and transplants if they're just going to destroy everything :(

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applestar
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Have you identified what kind of caterpillars they are? Mass destruction like that sounds like army worms, but it would help to know what they are. Make sure, too, that you are not also dealing with nocturnal slugs and snails as well.

i recommend that you hand pick every single one you can find and look for their eggs. Drop them in a container of soapy water.

Since you are growing in raised beds, one idea I have is to get Tanglefoot (sticky stuff) and tree tape and put them on your raised beds to trap the caterpillars that are trying to get in.

Also, backyard feeder birds have this amazing ability to come find the feeder as soon as you put out some fresh birdseed. You may still want to try putting up a bird feeder. For best results, get caged or similar squirrel/animal proof feeder and only use black oil sunflower seeds, sufflower seeds, and Niger/thistle seeds. (Or at least these are what works best in my area to attract the desirable birds -- I suppose there could be a difference for Texas).

As soon as the weather warms, they are always looking for birdbaths. -- I started out with an old trash can lid -- anything that's not too deep will work.

In addition to birds, there are many beneficial insects that prey on caterpillars.

Lianne
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apple, i just googled army worms. that is EXACTLY what they look like. I'm sure it is those. they're everywhere on every plant and come in a few different sizes, but there have been some pretty decent sized ones just chowing down. (irrelevant, but they've also begun to destroy a flower bed bordered by gerbera daisys).

someone i talked to today who lives in this area (DFW) said the same has happened to her veggies, and that the "mass destruction" essentially happened over night. she put something called "bonide eight" on her garden...I'm not sure if it is organic? https://www.bonide.com/lbonide/backlabels/l442.pdf

investing in Bt tomorrow!

Lianne
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oh, also, i have not seen any of the eggs. looking at pictures online, it seems they lay them like clusters of pearls... i definitely would have noticed that spending time in that area twice per day, so they must be great at hiding it!

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rainbowgardener
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The bonide probably does not count as organic. The active ingredient is pyrethroid.

Pyrethroids are synthetic compounds whose structure and mode of action are similar to pyrethrins but they are not approved for use in organic production. There are many pyrethoids including Ambush®, Ammo®, Aztec®, Pounce® and Warrior ®.
https://web.pppmb.cals.cornell.edu/resourceguide/mfs/10pyrethrum.php

The natural pyrethins that pyrethroids are a synthetic of, are derived from the pyrethrin daisy and could be called organic. But they are still broad spectrum insecticidal poisons HIGHLY toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.

However the pyrethins are contact poisons. If you spray them early in the AM or after dark, when the bees have gone home, they are quite short lived and probably okay.

The Bt mentioned should be effective against army worms. There is also an insecticide called spinosad, that is organic, derived from bacteria. It is similar to the pyrethins in being toxic to honey bees if they come in contact with it while wet, but harmless once dry. So if sprayed on the worms in the early AM or after dark, should be ok to use.

Are you in one of the areas that had a very warm winter? Army worms are usually controlled by cold; outbreaks like you are describing tend to happen after unusually warm winters.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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PunkRotten
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Wow sounds a lot like the earwigs plaguing my garden. Good luck I know how it feels.

Lianne
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I'm learning so much. thank you, everyone. punkrotten, I'm sorry youre going through something similar with earwigs. it's so sad to see all of your work devoured. it's been raining since 3 am, but i peeked out the window and it seems they've done more damage, knocking down some of my pepper plants. since all that will seem to remain is garlic, I'm going to just clean through everything else, pick out all of the dead plants/pillars, add some fresh soil and maybe a little compost, and start fresh with Bt. i have volunteer at something from 10-4 today (i spread myself too thin sometimes :? ), but i plan to stop at a garden center on the way home and purchase the Bt and hopefully start remedying all of this with a fresh start from here. it's been a very discouraging learning experience, but i feel like now that i have more knowledge and tools i can make attempt 2 work.

it was a VERY warm winter. it's only the 3rd winter i've spent in DFW (moved here from FL), but the first two were much colder than this one, with several snows (not a lot, but still snow) and frosts going well into march. this year, by march we were in the 60s-80s depending on the day. it only flurried once, around christmas time, and I'm not sure we had a true frost at all.

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applestar
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Don't forget to at least consider the tanglefoot idea -- it's a very sticky substance (comes in a can with a lid with attached paint brush kind of like rubber cement) that is painted onto something disposable like the paper tree wrap or even wide masking tape or duct tape or platic wrap. Crawling bugs will get stuck on them and you simple throw them out, tape and all.

Lianne
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the sticky solution does sound like a good idea... that's probably my next step.

today i purchased concentrated Bt and mixed it with water and sprayed it on every last inch of the garden, as well as around the outside.

just for kicks... here are a few shots of the "mass destruction"
[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/189/photo5bc.jpg/][img]https://img189.imageshack.us/img189/3987/photo5bc.jpg[/img][/url]
the bean seedlings

[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/254/photo6aq.jpg/][img]https://img254.imageshack.us/img254/3796/photo6aq.jpg[/img][/url]
the romaine

[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/138/photo7zm.jpg/][img]https://img138.imageshack.us/img138/833/photo7zm.jpg[/img][/url]
an onion

[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/207/photo8t.jpg/][img]https://img207.imageshack.us/img207/4093/photo8t.jpg[/img][/url]
golden cayenne pepper

[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/337/photo11vu.jpg/][img]https://img337.imageshack.us/img337/4092/photo11vu.jpg[/img][/url]
this is the most ridiculous one. cherry tomatoes, knocked to the floor like a tree in the forest. you can also see my sad eggplant there :(

[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/15/photo9gq.jpg/][img]https://img15.imageshack.us/img15/4971/photo9gq.jpg[/img][/url]
this WAS a gerbera daisy in the flower bed.

just for giggles... i guess they don't like cilantro :roll:
[url=https://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/26/photo10tu.jpg/][img]https://img26.imageshack.us/img26/4165/photo10tu.jpg[/img][/url]

jillybean
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Location: Cleburne, TX

I am so glad I found this post! I am about an hour south of you Lianne, and I have the same problem. I've been trying to figure out what is destroying my garden, but hadn't had luck yet. When I pulled up the armyworm picture, that is exactly it. I've tried to feed the plucked caterpillars to my chickens, but they seem cautious about them. So far the caterpillars have focused on my lettuce (which is a goner), but I hope to "get" them before they move on to the tomatoes and beans.

Lianne
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get them fast, jillybean, because they ruined my entire garden in a matter of only 2-3 days! the more I look into it, the more I hear it is happening to other backyard gardens in the north texas area...

i treated the garden with Bt, waited a few days, came back to only find a few stragglers (or maybe new guys who didn't get the memo that I'm out to kill now...). treated again, let the garden sit for another day. Then, today, i plucked out everything that was eaten up and left for dead, turned all of the soil, added some new soil, loosened everything up, and started over, mostly with transplants, just so i can hopefully have something to show for all of this by the end of the summer. sigh!

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applestar
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Concentrate on fast growers and hot weather crops. I'm thinking bush beans, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, melons, okra, sweet potatoes, as well as peppers, hot peppers, eggplants.... Also drought and heat tolerant herbs like sage, lavender, rosemary, .... 8)

Search for other heat tolerant vegs mentioned in the forum -- asparagus beans, butter-Lima beans, southern peas, Malabar spinach.....

Good luck! :D

Lianne
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Location: Grapevine, TX

I started over with eggplants, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, and rosemary! This week I'm re-sowing bush beams, and I've had a sweet potato ive been working on getting sprouts out of for a couple weeks now. It's almost there! I'm getting excited again :)

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PunkRotten
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That's good. I am starting over on a few things too. Re-sowing some Dill and Cilantro. I lost some Anise Hyssop, Yarrow, and Lavender. These are kind of tough to get started from seed. Had them all sprout and they either get attacked by bugs or it is too hot for them or something. Plus most my Basil seedlings got ate by bugs too.

faithful4ever
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Wow, I had almost the same problem with those nasty pests.they were all over my roses and small crepe myrtle I planted them last year. One crepe Myrtle was planted last year, half its leaves were eaten:( Iam hoping it will grow back. I was so upset I got out the D.E.powder. also I have a tree line on my property with plenty of birds. I hope you don't give up best of luck :)

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