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Ladybug Love

14 Nov

Not the prettiest of babies, ladybug larvae have a face only a mother could love!

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Ladybug larvae look so scary that the first time I saw them in my garden I cringed, wondering whether they would grow up to become good bugs or naughty bugs, devourers of pests or devourers of plants, friend or foe?
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Here’s a look at some ladybug larvae I spotted (ouch, excuse the pun!) er, photographed so that you can recognize them in your garden..

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Ladybug larvae do not have the hard shells and poisonous, odorous juices that will protect them as adults. Here they gather together to rest and grow, facing their spiky backs outward to shield the group's otherwise soft, vulnerable bodies. They also congregate to form structured groups in a linked pattern designed to keep anyone from falling or blowing off the plant their mother chose because of its ready supply of tasty food - usually aphids.

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They like to steady themselves in the niche between a leaf and a stem.

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These ladybug larvae are sharing a leaf umbrella to buffer windy, rainy weather. They are using all six legs to straddle a stem and cling on.

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I love these little critters because they eat 20-50 aphids a day, each!  Not to mention scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites, and other soft-bodied insects.   They are susceptible to pesticide, so if you want them to take up residence and clean up garden pests up for you, you must stop using toxic, non-targeted pesticides.  For a lazy gardener such as myself, it is a wonderful thing not to have to spray each week.  Ladybugs are cute little killing machines that will amble around and do the work for you – sort of like a Roomba vacuum cleaner for your garden!

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You might also like: What’s This I See? It’s Not A Bee!

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Nontoxic Ant Control

27 Oct
Ant Conference

Two ant leaders conferencing to plan the best home invasion route.

I awoke this morning to a home invasion – – of the insect kind.  Yikes!  Tiny black ants on a busy morning scout had discovered the dry dog food bowl tucked in a niche off the kitchen.  A dark wavy line threaded its way from the bowl to a crack lodged between the dining room wall and tile floor.  Every ant in the nest must have been at the party; there were hundreds.

I hate killing anything, I don’t even like killing ants, but they had to go.  I used wet paper towels to wipe them up.  Water seems to stun them long enough to tie them into a plastic trash bag.  But …

…they weren’t taking the hint and continued to wander in.  I remembered an old folk remedy, something about peppermint oil being a natural ant repellant.  No peppermint oil in the house, but I did have some liquid soap with peppermint oil in it, which I diluted with water (about a 1:10 ratio).  It’s been over four hours and I’ve not seen another ant!  I guess Dr. Brommer’s Magic Soaps really are magic!

Update the next evening: still no ants!

Update on October 31, 2011: still no ants. . .

Update on December 2, 2011: still no ants  : )

Update on February 1, 2012: Apparently the peppermint wore off.  The ants discovered another way into the house and went straight for the dog food again.  More Brommer’s was applied and all is well once more.  It seems that ants are much like people: somewhat lazy and liking the easiest method.  Rather than scavenge outside for their own food, which is plentiful in the sunshine and 72 degree weather we are having here in Southern California, they would rather  amble on inside for the dog’s food, already gathered together in a nice little bowl.

You might also like:

Dr. Brommer’s Magic Peppermint Soap

Nontoxic Flea Control for Those Hopping Fleas!

21 May

I can always rely on the first warm days of summer to bring a magnificent profusion of blooms and… an explosion of fleas!  The first time I observed how quickly they breed, I had just brought home an adorable, tiny shih-tzu puppy and was in the throes of coaxing her into potty training.  I had settled her down on the grass and was inviting her to “do her business” when I noticed with horrified amazement that a black hopping throng was advancing toward us like something out of a summer science fiction movie.  I gathered her up and ran inside.  Poor confused thing, she peed all over the house.  That was the beginning of a looong year of potty training.

I really wanted to avoid using pesticides.  I needed a quick solution that was effective, nontoxic, harmless to good bugs (bees, lady bugs, earthworms and the like), easy to apply and a good value for the money.  After much  research I finally stumbled upon beneficial nematodes.  These tiny creatures look remotely like miniature seahorses; they burrow into the ground seeking larval hosts to chew into and lay their eggs.  You can either spray them around yourself using a hose attachment (least expensive) or have a service do it for you (more convenient although it will cost a modest but well-worth-it fee).  In either case the nematodes must be applied monthly or so because they die off once they have killed all the fleas.

Could it be that easy?  Within a week of the first application I observed a significant reduction.  Within six weeks they were virtually gone.  I’ve had nary a flea since.

There are several companies that supply these wonderful little predators.  You can just search online using the key words beneficial, nematodes and non-toxic flea control.  Some breed their nematodes to target specific pests.  I use Flea Busters (www.fleabusters.com) because theirs specifically target fleas, they offer a monthly service, are dependable and knowledgeable and their website is so informative.

I hope that the start of this summer finds your yard free of fleas and your thumb a deep, deep green!