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I transplanted some cabbage about a month ago (after starting it from seed in a flat). Now I see that something is eating the cabbage leaves:

Cabbage Image #1

I also see that one pair of seedlings is doing very poorly:

Cabbage Image #2

What is eating these leaves? the lettuce growing next to the cabbage appears unmolested. I have seen a rabbit or two in the neighborhood, but I don't think a rabbit would cause this kind of damage, would it?

And what (organic) options do I have to protect my cabbage?

EDIT: Found this critter on one of the leaves:


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Related: – bstpierre May 3 '12 at 11:56
up vote 8 down vote accepted

That looks like it could be imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae). Though it could be one of the other species that also gets lumped under the generic "cabbage worm" label.

I've had similar-looking worms and very similar damage. You can (mostly) prevent them from getting on your cabbage (and other brassicas) by using row cover as soon as you transplant or direct-seed.

Now that you've got them on your plants, you'll have to spray. I've had good luck with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic-approved biological control. You can get it at your garden center; follow the instructions on the label. I spray every couple of weeks and the damage is minimal.

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Do you spray preventatively? – David LeBauer May 15 '12 at 4:12
Yes. I get them every year, and while row covers help with prevention, I've found that spraying every 2 weeks keeps the pest level within reason. I've given up on growing broccoli, because even with the spraying I always find a bunch of worms in the heads. Soaking probably gets rid of them, and there's probably no harm in eating them, but it's not appetizing. Cabbage, kale, turnips, and brussels sprouts don't have the same issue. – bstpierre May 15 '12 at 14:54
We had cabbage worms on our Stonehead cabbages, this year, though probably another kind (as well as a whole bunch of aphids that blew in). I can affirm that the damage looks similar. Ours smelled rotten inside, too. Red cabbage is supposed to be at least a little more resistant than green. The following kinds are rumored on the Internet to be at least somewhat resistant to cabbage worms (but they recommend other controls in addition to planting such kinds): Savoy Ace, Winningstadt, Mammoth Red Rock, Chieftan Savoy, and Savoy Perfection Drumhead, Early Glob, Red Acre and Round Dutch. – Shule Oct 17 '15 at 6:47

It's some kind of bug - not a vertebrate. If you're not seeing it at all during the day, go out at night. One common bug that does this that you should be able to spot during the day is the cabbage looper - green caterpillars with two white stripes on each side.

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Thanks, I found a couple varieties of caterpillars on the leaves (question updated with photo). How can I guard against these guys? – Flimzy May 3 '12 at 3:32

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