Little garden, big bugs: how we organically fight hornworms and cabbage worms

This is the fourth summer Oliver and I have kept a vegetable garden. Each season has brought it's own challenges and lessons. We're nowhere near "master gardeners" but I do think our experiences may help beginner gardeners who are facing the frustration of pests or under producing vegetable plants. Later this month I'll cover how we encourage growth; today I want to address something more fun - GIANT BUGS!

Our first (and only) hornworm attack was during the summer of 2010. I've seen them described as "alarmingly large" - which is true but doesn't do justice to how terrifying it is when first encountering them. Their fat bulby heads remind me of the Predator alien. I was in such dazed disbelief the first time I encountered them that I grabbed my camera and made the following videos (which are also kinda funny). 

This spring we had our first encounter with the equally destructive cabbage worms. The information I found online gave the same advice for controlling both horn and cabbage worms: hand pick the buggers off the plants and kill them. As I mentioned in a post in March I doggedly protected my cabbages for months. Once a day I'd kneel in front of my 6 plants, turning over every single leaf, squishing the little worms and throwing the bigger ones onto the pavement walkway. This worked until I became outnumbered. As the cabbage leaves got bigger the butterflies were getting trapped in the interior leaves and laying dozens of eggs - leading to dozens of worms. I couldn't keep up. That's when Oliver found an organic worm and caterpillar killer with BT (shown in the photo top of post). I give it two thumbs up. Here is how we use it:

Fill a spray bottle (size shown in picture) with water, add a teaspoon of the BT worm killer solution, shake well and then spray all cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Be sure to coat the tops and undersides of all leaves as well as growing fruit. Repeat once a week, after heavy rain or watering.  The solution won't keep the worms away but it will kill them once they eat it.  As your garden grows keep an eye out for tiny caterpillars; if you do get an infestation it's best to catch it early.