Saturday, May 21, 2011

Aphid Anxiety

Ants "farm" aphids for their "honeydew." The presence of ants
can indicate the presence of aphids.
Imagine my chagrin when I pulled back the row cover to find that my lovely crop of arugula had been heavily infested with aphids. This wasn't just a few aphids here and there, it was aphids, aphids everywhere.

Also under the row cover were my winter spinach, new spinach and some lettuce, none of which had the level of infestation (or any that I could tell at the time) as the arugula. A big question mark appeared over my head. Why the arugula?

I cut down all of the arugula and soaked it in a sink full of water. Draining and filling the sink again. Then draining and rinsing. That seemed to get all of the aphids off, as I didn't find any when I used the arugula later.

Many people would reach for an insecticide of some kind when faced with such an infestation, but I like to let Nature take charge. The row cover came off to allow the lady bugs and lace wings, and whatever other things eat aphids, access to this veritable feast. It wasn't long before I saw shiny red lady bugs and even some of their fierce looking larvae crawling around in the spinach and lettuce. My heroes.

Lady bug comes to the rescue for aphid control. Wish I could have
gotten a shot of their dangerous looking larvae.
Aphids are relatively easy to control. A hard blast of water will knock them off. A spray of instecticidal soap, or a spray made with garlic and/or cayenne definitely discourages them. Those things also discourage aphid predators, so I took no further action. The aphids have moved into the spinach and lettuce next to the arugula, but it is a light infestation and lady bugs are on patrol. All is well.

While row cover thwarts the advances of many plant-eating insects, aphids are not repeled. I have found heavy infestations on my cole crops under cover. A solution exists, however. Plant onions.

Last year I planted onions along the edges of the broccoli, kale, collards and cabbage beds to make more efficient use of the space. One small bed of kale and collards did not have onions planted in it. The kale and collards in the no-onion bed eventually were covered with aphids and I had to get rid of them. The other cole crop beds with onions in them remained virtually aphid-free.

So, you see, I am not really anxious about aphids. Not with onions, lady bugs and lace wings on my side.

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