Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ladybugs!

Bugs on The (Dirt-Crusted) Boy

Bugs belong in the garden.  Show me a garden free of creepy crawlies, and I’ll show you a garage full of poison.  Still, certain creatures will drive me to cold-blooded killing.  Army worms (the reason I’ve given up on planting chard this year) and aphids are at the top of my hit list.

In May, my beloved rosebushes were covered with promising buds.  (I have a great view of my best rosebushes from the window by Tiny’s changing table.  I may not be smelling the roses, but it makes what I am smelling a little more tolerable.)  When I had the chance to visit my roses up close, I discovered that many of the buds were covered with little green devils hell-bent on sucking the life out of them first.  Every year I fight this battle – I’ve used homemade sprays (milk, soap), an organic pesticide from my coop (which I now know is not the best idea), and mostly my fingers to wipe them off and squish them to oblivion.  The roses win out eventually, but the aphids take their toll.  They also attack the peas and the new buds on our baby plum tree.
This year, I invested in mercenaries.  Our local garden store, it turns out, stocked ladybugs and lacewings (another beneficial insect I’ll need to learn up on).  I wasn’t quite sure how one goes about purchasing a large quantity of bugs, but it seemed like it was time to try.  The kids were especially excited about the plan.

After two disappointing trips to the garden store (they were out of ladybugs), I finally lucked out one night and brought home a small bag of gardening supplies.  Inside was a few seed packets and a $8 bag of bugs.

The small mesh bag the store clerk handed me contained about 1000 ladybugs, supposedly, and a few stringy things that may have been their food.  She said to keep them in my fridge until I was ready to release them.  The Ladies in Red stay dormant at cold temps).  The best time to release the wee beetles is in the early evening, shortly after watering.

The Boy and Princess Bean were thrilled, but also creeped out by the sheer quantity of bugs.  They needed reassurance that ladybugs don’t bite.  We took the package to the garden and gently shook out its living contents on the roses and other plants.  The stragglers were left to crawl out on their own time.  The next day the bag was empty of all live ladybugs, with a few dozen carcasses left behind.  Not bad, considering the number of live bugs that had made themselves at home.

While I didn’t expect the ladybugs to all stick around, we’ve seen a significant increase in our local ladybug population.  I’m also happy to report that the aphids have been nibbled up to tolerable levels.  The little ladies have made homes on our fences, especially in the metal tubes that form the end-stakes on the pea fence.

While ladybugs themselves are about as recognizable a bug as there is, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the appearance of their offspring.  When I was new to gardening, I ignorantly squashed several creepy looking ladybug larvae that I’d assumed were garden pests.

Don’t kill me!

Stupid.  I have since adopted a reasonable policy.  Don’t kill strangers just because they look weird.  I found a fantastic book, which I recommend to any gardener who desires to grow organically.  The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control has pictures of the bugs you want to make friends with and those destined to be your enemies, along with all the info you need to deal with them.

Organic gardeners have to live with bugs.  Rather than trying to battle nature, I am learning to work with it.  Ideally, my own plantings would attract all the beneficial insects I need to keep the enemies in check.  This year, though, the kids got to enjoy the sight of hundreds of bugs swarming the garden in search of dinner.  It was fun.  I recommend it.