Sunday, July 10, 2011

Releasing the Ladybugs!

Since day one of this project my daughters have been excited about buying ladybugs. They keep seeing them at the register when we go to the garden store. They have been very patient. Finally tonight at dusk we had our releasing the ladybugs ceremony. 

Ladybugs are very beneficial for the garden because they eat Aphids, Mealybugs, Spider Mites, Thrips, and many other soft bodies insects. We want to avoid pesticides so we are hoping these ladybugs are hungry. The package we got had 1500 ladybugs inside. They should feed and lay eggs for many days before leaving and then the next generation will repeat this cycle. The best time to release ladybugs is in the early morning or at dusk. They move more slowly at these times and are less likely to go eat bugs in your neighbors yard. Misting the plants before hand also helps them to stick around because after being stuck in a container with nothing more than a damp cotton ball they will be mighty thirsty.

Besides beneficial insects, the best defense against bugs is a healthy garden. Pulling out weeds and unhealthy plants right away is important. Covering the top soil with compost will build healthy plants and I recently heard that seaweed mulch is good for repelling slugs. Interplanting and rotating crops is also a good idea. Many insects are plant specific and when plants are mixed they are less likely to spread throughout a crop. Tonight I read that wet foliage encourages insect and fungal damage to the plants. It has been so hot I have been watering in the morning and then the evening. It is best to water early so the leaves have time to dry. We are having a drip irrigation system put in soon which will deliver water to the roots and not the leaves. Until then I will have to remember to do my second watering a little earlier. 

When all else fails you may have to come up with some kind of concoction to spray on the pests. I absolutely refuse to spray chemicals on our food so I will definitely be trying one of these:

---For aphids or other soft bodied insects that your ladybugs don't take care of, mix one tablespoon canola oil and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Put into a spray bottle and shake well. Then remember to spray the top and underside of the leaves. The oil will smother the insects.

---My daughter has been running around with a bug book lately. She correctly spotted a Japanese beetle the other day. Although I never noticed them before, now we are seeing them everywhere. Today I found one in the refrigerator!!! The larvae of these beetles are known to infect the garden. There is a natural remedy called milky spore. The granules are spread on the soil and cause the grubs to contact a disease that kills them. I feel bad about this and decided I am not going to use this unless they get out of control. These beetles are rather nice looking bugs. This natural control affects only the grubs, leaving beneficial organisms unharmed. And once you add milky spore to your garden it seems you are set. It multiples over time and will sit inactive, waiting for the grubs to infect. One treatment is said to last forty years...too bad the wood in my garden boxes won't last that long!

---For mites, mix two tablespoons hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper with a few drops of Ivory soap. Let stand overnight and then apply on tops and bottoms of plants. Just don't go snacking in the garden or rub your eyes after weeding. Ouch!

---For earwigs, slugs, and other soft-bodied garden pests there is something called diaomaceous earth that is sprinkled over plants and around edges of garden beds. The diatom particles are very small and sharp and are only harmful to small exoskeletons of insects, slugs, and snails.

---For plant fungal diseases mix two tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of water and spray affected areas every few days until the problem ceases.

---For powdery mildew combine equal parts milk and water and spray on affected areas three times a week.

Have any other natural pest remedies? Please post a comment.

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