Careful Cleaning Keeps Broccoli Worms Off Plate

Q: I've got little green worms infesting my broccoli. How do I discourage them on the plants and, after picking, how do I prevent them from ending up on the diner's fork?

A: There are a number of green worms that can get into broccoli, but the most common is the imported cabbage worm. This velvety green caterpillar has pale yellow stripes along the sides of its body. Its mom and dad are those white butterflies you see cavorting over your garden.

If you have a small patch of broccoli, you may be able to keep the population to a tolerable level by hand-picking. Examine the leaves at least every second or third day, especially the undersides near the midrib, and eliminate the larvae you find.

These critters infest cabbage, cauliflower, mustards and most other crops in that plant family. If your "cabbage patch" is fairly large, you may want to use a pesticide. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is effective on the imported cabbage worm and the other caterpillars that eat broccoli. Because it is harmful only to butterfly and moth larvae, it is very safe for you and the environment.

As for preventing the consumption of the worms, do a thorough washing. Cut the head up in individual spears, so you have a greater chance of finding worms hidden in the head. Then soak the broccoli in a solution of about 4 tablespoons of salt in 1 gallon of water for about 5 minutes. This will stun any worms you missed. They may float to the surface or fall off when you rinse the vegetables one last time. (This works well for those tiny slugs that get into leaf lettuce, too. They sink rather than float, but it does cause them to lose their grip.)

Q: An article I just read on picking fresh produce didn't include onions. Can you help?

A: Sure. Harvest green onions or scallions when they are a reasonable size. You can start using the thinned seedlings as soon as they are big enough to be worth the bother.

Bulb onions can be pulled for fresh use anytime after the bulb has sized up. For storage onions, you should stop watering them when the bulb has enlarged and harvest after the tops have died down. Harvest usually occurs by June for overwintered onions and in July or August for ones planted in spring.

Sometimes harvest time comes and the tops are still going strong. The gardener can intervene by bending over the tops to encourage them to die back.

Q: Something is eating my pumpkins and squash. This has never happened before. Help!

A: I'm guessing that your problem is four-legged pests, such as rats or opossums, since pumpkins and squash are a bit hard-shelled for most insects. Call your County Cooperative Extension office and find the location of your nearest WSU Master Gardeners. They can help you identify the culprits and find a control.

Q: How far along does my dill have to be to use it for pickles? Can I use it in flower form or does it have to have seeds?

A: The seeds are the part of dill used in pickle-making. Once you have the umbrella clusters of small, yellow flowers, the thin seeds will follow quickly. In the meantime, enjoy the ferny foliage's taste in salads an sauces and on vegetables and fish.

Gardening runs Friday in Scene and Sunday in Home/Real Estate. It is prepared by Mary Robson, Area Horticulture Agent; Holly Kennell, Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension agent, Susan Miller, integrated pest management specialist, and volunteer Master Gardeners.