Back in March I prepped a new bed and sowed a gang of seeds: zinnias, sunflowers, basil, cosmos, gomphrena, marigolds, amaranthus, and celosia – most of it by direct seed, with maybe the latter two started indoors. Today, I have maybe a handful of zinnias, sunflowers and marigolds. Oh, and one sad basil and another very sad gomphrena.

So what the heck happened?

cutworm
This is what a cutworm looks like. Jerk.

Cutworms! Well, mostly cutworms, but it’s not like I was helping the situation. For those who aren’t familiar with this particular variation of life’s little blessings, cutworms are active at night and like to eat through young plants at their base, resulting in a felled plant right next to a tiny stump. You find this destruction in the morning and go AHAHGHDHGKJDGHwhywhywhy.

There are several things to be learned from the cutworm massacre of March 2017.

Benary's Giant Salmon Rose
The one Benary’s Giant Salmon Rose zinnia that made it out alive.

#1. Don’t think you can maintain new seedlings as a weekend gardener.
I was commuting at least 80 minutes every day to work and back and was a little bit of a diva when I got home. I’m tired, I would say. It’s too late and now the mosquitos are biting, I would say! What a complainer. I am also not a morning person. Waking up at 6:00 AM to tend to my garden before getting ready for work was never going to happen. So I’d wake up, rush to work, and try to get home before the sun set. It didn’t happen very often. The new bed, with its new seedlings, was left to fend for itself until Saturday maintenance. But by then, there was not much to maintain!

#2. BT on sprouts doesn’t work on cutworms, dummy.
Bacillus thuringiensis 
is a bacteria used as a pesticide. It targets leaf-eating worms and caterpillars. Worry not, it’s safe for other living creatures. It worked wonders on last year’s string beans, so I figured it would work on my dear sprouts. I would spray in the morning before going to work. Still, I would still be met with little decapitated sprouts the next morning.

And.. that’s because cutworms eat the stems, not the leaves. So even if the cutworm died or whatever after eating the sprout, the damage had already been done. Also, BT apparently works better when applied in the late afternoon. Whatever.

There are ways around this, of course, that I learned after the fact. One would be to create little collars around each seedling (how precious), fashioned from toilet paper rolls, to create a physical barrier between worm and plant. Another would be to mix BT with corn meal and molasses and scoop that mixture onto various parts of your garden as bait. I shall do both for tomorrow’s sowing. I’m also going to sprinkle a little ring of diatomaceous earth around each planting site. I don’t care if this is overkill.

#3. Wait until after cutworm high season.
I was so blinded by enthusiasm for a big-ass summer crop that I forgot that spring means reproduction. Reproduction of cutworms, that is! I should have figured, what with the wasps making their devil nests under every possible eave. The bottom line is I either should have waited or taken more precautions.

There’s a veritable bevy of other things I could have done differently. That’s the great thing about gardening. You can always try again. It is too bad that I will need to wait a whole year to try again with other flowers, since at this point I can only really plant zinnias, sunflowers and marigolds with any semblance of success. I might try for more cosmos and see what happens. I’m okay with all of this, anyways. Onward ho, as they say.

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