In Ray Bradbury’s 1952 science fiction story A Sound of Thunder, Eckels, a time-traveling safari hunter accidentally steps on a butterfly during prehistoric times, which triggers a massive change to the eco-system when Eckels returns to 2055 society.
If it’s so that a single action can have consequences centuries later, I wonder about ramifications from the mass extermination of butterflies by a witty, well-meaning, 19th century Hague (on Lake George in Warren County) cabbage farmer.
“I wish to say a few words in regard to cabbages. With a little trouble, I have been able to raise good cabbages while my neighbors have not been able,” the unnamed Hague resident wrote in a letter to the editor, published August 8th, 1874 in the Ticonderoga Sentinel. “I will use neither Hebrew, Greek, Latin or French frases,” he wrote, using the spelling in multiple foreign languages for the English word “phrases.”
The biggest threat to cabbage is the cabbage worm, the Hague farmer wrote.
The insect commonly referred to as the cabbage worm actually is not a worm but a caterpillar.
“I have studied and sought for a remedy for the last three years, putting on soap suds, kerosene, tobacco and many other cures, but with no effect.”
The farmer finally determined that the most effective way to curtail the cabbage worm was to eradicate butterflies before the insects could lay myriad eggs that hatched into caterpillars.
“If every cabbage loving man would take a little pains to destroy the butterflies, every garden would soon be able to turn out plenty of nice cabbage heads which would add greatly to table luxuries.”
The cabbage worm, a velvety-green larvae with a few yellow stripes, which turns into the Cabbage white butterfly, is often confused with the cabbage looper, which raises and lowers its body as it creeps because it does not have middle legs.
The caterpillars eat the leaves of cabbage plants and other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale, in some cases destroying the plants entirely.
On July 4th, 1883, The Morning Star of Glens Falls published a pun about the voracious appetite of the garden pest.
“’Investigator’ wants to know what is good for cabbage worms. Bless your heart, man, cabbage, of course. A good plump cabbage will last several worms a week.”
The preferred contemporary method for control is to routinely hand pick the eggs before they hatch, according to “The Old Farmer’s Almanack” website, which suggests contacting a local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for advice.
Yellow sticky traps are also effective, but may also catch other desirable insects.
Another method is to dampen cabbage leaves and sprinkle the leaves with corn meal. Ingesting the corn meal causes the caterpillars to swell up and die.
An antiquarian method sprinkled rye flour on cabbage leaves.
Other antiquarian control methods used harsh pesticides.
Our Blatta Insect Powder, “a genuine bug buster,” was regularly advertised in The People’s Journal of Greenwich, in Washington County, in 1883.
“Kills cock roaches, croton bugs, house flies, fleas, rose slugs, cabbage worms, bed bugs, caterpillars and all insect life.”
On September 8th, 1895, The Granville Sentinel recommended spraying kerosene emulsion to control cabbage bugs and lice.
W.L. Cozzens of Greenwich advertised “Hammond’s Slug Shot” in the July 4th, 1889 issue of The People’s Journal.
“It is the cheapest and most effective article known – used with safety to man and beast (but not bugs) for ten years.”
At the Easton Farmers’ Club meeting at the Society of Friends church on March 27th, Mrs. Millard read an article that suggested mixing one gallon of coal tar with three gallons of water as an alternative to poisonous pesticides such as Paris green, The People’s Journal reported on April 1st, 1886.
Photo of cabbage worm courtesy James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster.