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Cabbage whitefly: can it be controlled with nettle tea?


Photo: Kale infested with cabbage whitefly

Photo: Kale infested with cabbage whitefly

I’ve just discovered that cabbage white fly is attacking our Sunderland kale.  This is my first year growing this variety and it had been romping along – growing quite tall and bushy. Last week I noticed that the strong green leaves were yellowing and by yesterday they were looking very grim. When I touched them yesterday clouds of tiny white mothlike creatures flew into the air.

Apparently these creatures are cabbage whitefly. They only attack members of the brassica family. I noticed a few on the Tuscan Kale last autumn but had no idea what they were.

Our garden is full of beneficial insects so I motored over to the nearest garden centre and scanned the shelves for an organic solution to the problem that wouldn’t harm the insect heroes. I invested in Bayer Organic Bug Free but didn’t have time to use it yesterday – I’m still trying to turn the stone quarry in the front garden into a decent flower border. Progress is slow.

This morning I woke up and remembered that quite a few weeks ago, I had made some nettle tea. This is supposed to be a great fertiliser and natural insecticide. So I’m going to filter it and dilute it at a ratio of one part nettle tea to seven parts water. This is quite a weak dilution but I don’t want to burn the leaves. And this evening I’ll spray the crop. If it works I’ll be feeding the leaves and dispatching the cabbage white fly in one fell swoop. Apparently nettle tea kills caterpillars too.

The main drawback of nettle tea is that it really stinks. We’re talking dead and rotting animal here. Apparently standing downwind, rubber gloves and old clothes are essential. I know that Inca – our youngest Min Pin will love it as she’s very keen on rolling on the remains of anything that smells rank. So the construction of a stronger barricade around the border is vital. To stop this young Min Pin slinking up to my bed anointed from head to toe with eau de putrid nettle.

I’ll report back in a week or so.

  Leave a reply


  1. I’ve just removed about 60 caterpillers by hand – at least the chickens appreciate it. I’m fighting a losing battle though. I had planted nasturtiums as a sacrificial plant – cabbage white love them and the plan was that they’d eat those instead of the cabbages and Kale. I think prevention is better than cure – netting for me next year too.

  2. Hi,

    How has the nettle tea worked ?
    My Kale and Calabrese are infested with Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars at the moment – I may try the nettle tea spray: do you think it will work ?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Wil

      It worked up to a point. Eventually I sprayed about three times. Then the infected leaves started to rot so I removed and burnt them. Now the stalks are sprouting again. With no caterpillars. So far so good. Next year I’m going to invest in enviromesh.

  3. Michelle in NZ

    Last summer dear Dad had problems with whitefly infesting his magnificent beans – there were so many that he took to using the vaccuum cleaner to suck up all the little blighters!

  4. I have had a similar experience with my dog, using fish based fertilizer on the garden! Big mistake, she ate soil by the mouthful until it rained. I’ll be interested to hear the results of your experiment.

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