Lady bugs are actually a type of beetle. They specialize in aphid devouring, as do their larvae.
Stink bugs, aphids, and caterpillars, oh my. They love to invade your vegetable garden and carry away the plunder like ancient Vikings attacking a well-stocked city. They want it all and what they don’t take completely, they often leave unfit for human consumption.
When pests invade your garden, the easiest thing to do is cover the crops with deadly chemicals. But, most of us can see at least a few problems with dosing our own food with poison, and there are safer alternatives. Certain plants can be put with vegetables that will help repel pests. Oregano and marigold are some of the best, but they can only help so much.
One way of fighting an invading army is to hire some mercenaries – predatory insects, which can be ordered and released in hopes they stay for dinner. Most people instantly think of lady bugs which are actually a type of beetle and not in any way a bug. They specialize in aphid devouring, as do their larvae. They are frequently sold, but are also abundant in the wild. It’s good to learn what their eggs and larvae look like, so you can avoid hurting them. Their larvae do not look like they do, but almost resemble a miniature, flattish, spiky, gray caterpillar. Don’t let the lace wings fool you. They look like winged aphids, but that’s just because they are undercover. They are really there to eat the aphids. The preying mantises are very versatile in their diet, which includes almost anything smaller than they are including their husbands.
Other common warriors that people unfortunately fight against include wasps and spiders. Granted, there are some places you cannot allow a wasp nest, but in a lot of cases, you should hold your fire with the spray. Leave their nests alone as often as you can, and they will help rid your garden of caterpillars which they feed to their larvae. There is a lot of logic in the old saying, “Be nice to spiders.” Only two kinds of spiders common in this area can be dangerous to the humans – the brown recluse and the black widow. There have been reports of brown widows also in La., but they aren’t as common yet. The thousands of other spiders might save your life. Mosquitoes cause more deaths than any creature in the world, so by killing spiders you are harming one of your greatest allies. Wolf spiders look like creepy miniature tarantulas, but are great to crawl around your plants pouncing on various invaders. But beware some types of brown recluses look like wolf spiders and will bite when disturbed.
Plants can call the cavalry themselves by releasing chemicals when they are being eaten that attract the natural enemies of the pest. Vegetation also can release toxins to discourage creatures from eating them. So, you don’t need to worry about a few insects. Those will just help the plants get stronger and build up the population of predatory insects.
Your army might not be able to do all the dirty work for you and you may need to cover the plants with some protectants. Various companies make non-lethal pest deterrents like soap shield. The down side is since they only repel the bad guys, they don’t reduce their population and have to be applied often and thoroughly. Still, try to resist using poison if just to keep your allies from getting caught in the chemical fall out.
Our ancestors survived without ever poisoning their own food, but today’s plants are spoiled weaker versions of what we used to grow. Hybrid foods may taste better, but aren’t as strong against pests, and often produce only useless seeds. If you get open pollinated seeds, which aren’t hybrid, you will likely get crops more naturally hearty against insects. Keep in mind – most of the natural crops are blander for having not been manipulated by man into being something sweet.
By Dori Herndon