This winter I’ve been leaving the kale alone to do its thing. It wasn’t until I finally harvested some leaves from it last week that I noticed the critters.
I consulted Bountiful Container, one of my gardening books. Here’s what authors Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey have to say about aphids:
Tiny little devils no bigger than a comma that suck the juices out of plants, eventually killing them. And even if they don’t kill the plants themselves, they sometimes transmit other diseases. They’re especially partial to tender new growth, so you find them clustered near the growing tips, on the stems, buds, or underside of leaves.
I took a closer look at my four kale plants. Three of them had aphids, concentrated at the heart of the plant, where the tender new leaves were just sprouting.
According to McGee and Stuckey, protecting my kale plants from aphids was a two-step process. First I needed to remove the aphids from the plant with my fingers or a spray of water. Then I needed to protect the plants from future aphid attacks with a mild insecticide. They recommended pyrethrum, which is made from chrysanthemum flours, is safe to use on food crops, and doesn’t leave a toxic residue in the soil.
For a nice strong stream of water to knock the aphids off their perch, I filled my spray bottle with water. That did the trick, while still being gentle enough on the tender shoots. Then I sprayed with the insecticide, making sure to get the underside of the leaves where the aphids like to hang out.
In retrospect, I should have known something was up with my kale plants. Can you tell they are different sizes? Can you guess which plant was aphid-free?
I’ll be much more vigilant from now on when tending my kale. I’ve learned you can’t really leave anything alone in the garden.