Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/9/08)

In the Rape of Lucrece Shakespeare asks, “Why should the worm intrude the main bud?” and answers with the couplet, “But no perfection is so absolute/That some impurity doth not pollute.” Such is the perennial question asked by all gardeners as spring arrives only to find aphids swarming over a rose bud or, worse yet, little holes in the bud drilled by the rose weevil. Actually, Shakespeare was writing about the “tragic flaw” in fallen heroes and heroines, but he began quite appropriately with worms and bugs.

If not tragic, there’s always a flaw of some kind in the garden that “doth pollute.” Theological speculations about the problem of evil from the asylum ignorantiae don’t help. Turning to friends is more useful when the afflictions seem overwhelming, friends such as ladybugs and green lacewings. They eat aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies, leafhoppers, mites, scale, and insect eggs, and so it’s difficult to find better gardening friends than these predators.

Lady bugs are far more charming than green lacewings which are cannibalistic and aren’t as cute. No one makes green lacewings into pets as with ladybugs, but both are marvelous predators, especially their larvae. Actually, the phrase “lady bug” refers to the Virgin Mary. During the Middle Ages, when insects were destroying the crops of the farmers, they prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. When the ladybugs arrived to eat the insects and save the crops, the farmers called the insect eaters "Our Lady’s beetles,” the phrase eventually becoming ladybugs.

One of the ironies of affliction is that both the ladybugs and lacewings need the pests to eat, and without them they will either leave or perish, especially their larvae. As Shakespeare observed, “from creation to general doom” affliction is always with us. In every garden, aphids, mealybugs, white flies, and their kindred lie in wait. Not to worry! The pests haven’t left but are waiting hidden as eggs to strike again.

Actually, green lacewings don’t eat the garden pests. Their larvae do. However, adult ladybugs and their larvae are both predators.

The life cycles of green lacewings and ladybugs are similar. Beginning as eggs, they hatch into larvae. The larvae are the voracious eaters. After getting their fill, they become pupae which eventually become adults. The whole cycle takes about a month.

Pesticides are lethal for ladybugs and green lacewings, killing them along with the noxious insects. If gardeners spray their beds with pesticides, it’s “Shock and Awe” carpet bombing, taking out everything in sight, killing friends as well as enemies. Nowadays, it’s called friendly fire. Also, pesticides “doth pollute” the environment, human beings being the only animals who befoul their own nests.

In addition to avoiding pesticides, creating a congenial environment for these two friendly predators will more likely assure that they hang around the garden. Apart from aphids, ladybugs and green lacewings need other sources of food, such as pollen and nectar, after they’ve been successful knocking off the aphids. The specific types of plants they like have umbrella shaped flowers such as fennel, dill, cilantro, and yarrow. They are also attracted to cosmos, coreopsis, and scented geraniums.

Unlike human friends, ladybugs and green lacewings can be bought over the Internet or from a local nursery. There are four watchwords with these bribed friends. Release them in the evening because like a lot of purchased friends, they tend to wander and fly off. Make sure they have water. Refrigerate them before releasing them so that they won’t fly off so easily. If the infestation heavy, drape the plants, making a tent in which they will be confined to eat up the nasties.

Finally, as with all friends, sometimes they can be too much of a good thing. If they’re set loose in the house, they’ll leave little yucky, foul-smelling spots on the walls which are actually spots of their foul-smelling blood designed to repel their adversaries. They have to be given that, but not in the house. As with endangered trout, it’s catch and release, only with lady bugs it’s vacuum and release.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

No comments: