It's no secret that we garden for wildlife in My Florida Backyard. Every living thing (with the notable exception of fire ants) is welcome, and we generally don't worry about holes in leaves that show something has been finding the sustenance it needs in our garden.
However, we recently decided to try growing some vegetables for human consumption, starting with peppers and zucchini. Things were going well, until we realized the leaves of the zucchini were being skeletonized with a vengeance:
Within a few days, our once healthy plants were nearly eaten to the ground. A little searching and we were able to follow the frass right to the culprits:
We're not sure exactly what kind of creature this caterpillar will turn into; most likely some kind of moth. There were more than a dozen doing very serious damage, and we need to figure out how to control them if we want to have any success with our zucchini at all. Considering we've spent the last few years trying to lure all kinds of caterpillars to the garden, the irony of the current situation is not lost on us.
And here's where the challenge of being an organic and wildlife-friendly gardener comes into play. We could probably use some kind of pesticide like Seven on this plant alone without really affecting the other plants nearby, but there's always the danger of run-off, plus we don't really like the idea of putting poison onto foods we want to eat someday. Insecticidal soap is generally our go-to in these situations, but the caterpillars are leaf-rollers, so a general overall spraying of the plant isn't effective.
We're left with just one solution - diligence. We'll need to check the plants every day or two for these caterpillars, and pick them off when we find them. It's not the easiest way to garden, but it's the only way we really feel comfortable with in My Florida Backyard.