Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home…

November 10th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Ladybird beetles seeking shelter in my studio siding for winter’s hibernation

“Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home. You’re house is on fire, your children have flown”… Oh my goodness, but how that little ditty always freaked me out as a kid. Even now, although I do love it —especially when sung in a hushed and raspy tone— the song can still give me the heebie-jeebies. There are many myths attached to ladybird beetles —or lady bugs if you prefer— and according to one old-wives-tale, if you sing this song, the ladybirds will all fly away. Call me superstitious, but I happen to believe another common ladybird beetle myth… Have you heard that spotting a lady bug is good luck? And if it’s true, boy did I hit the jackpot! Last week, when temperatures rose (to around 60 degrees fahrenheit after the hard frost) ladybird beetles suddenly began filling the air —flying this way and that in the sun— seeking a sheltered place to congregate. Soon, thousands and thousands of lady bugs covered the siding on my studio, where they quickly aggregated in nooks, cracks and crannies. It was quite a colorful spectacle!

Of course ladybird beetles are one of the most familiar beneficial insects, and with the exception of only two harmful Coccinellidae species (the Mexican bean beetle and squash beetle) they always mean good luck for gardeners. There are near 200 species of lady bugs in North America alone, and with both larvae and adults feeding upon garden pests like aphids, mealybugs, scale and spider mites, they are one of the most effective garden-pest predators. I don’t want them to fly away! Please stay right here at my home lady bugs!

Two of the more common aggregating lady bug species, the convergent and Asian ladybird beetles (Hippodamia convergens and Harmonia axyridis, respectively) seek protection from cold temperatures in both natural and man-made shelters. Some homeowners consider the multicolored Asian ladybird beetle a nuisance, but if the the insects are a problem, they can be collected —gently with a vacuum cleaner—and moved a different location (encourage others to relocate lady bugs by emptying the vacuum in a cool shed, garage or other outbuilding – but not killing them!)

Although lady bug larvae are primarily carnivorous, most species of adult ladybird beetles are omnivores, and also feed upon pollen and other sources of sweet nectar. Throughout the growing season, ladybird beetles are attracted to flower and vegetable gardens, where they feed, mate and lay tiny yellow-orange eggs near food sources (like aphid-infested plants). Beware: lady bug larvae look very different from adult beetles. Immature lady bugs have long, tapered black bodies with yellow or orange markings, (click here to see a photo and previous post on beneficial insects).

During hibernation, lady bugs survive off their own stored body fat. But, if there are indoor pests to consume, they will eat those as well! Active ladybugs require moisture in order to survive. During winter, our houses tend to be hot and dry, and unless they have a source of water, lady bugs often perish. If you enjoy hosting over-wintering lady bugs in your home, be sure to run a humidifier and leave some sources of water available (shallow flowerpot saucers with rocks and a bit of drainage water work splendidly). Once spring arrives, the lady bugs will depart and begin hunting outdoors. Each individual beetle may live approximately two years! You can also make or purchase special, cute houses for lady bug and other beneficial insect-hibernation (including special houses for butterflies and bees).

Ladybug Hibernation House available at Duncraft

To learn more about insects —both beneficial and ‘bad bugs’— and how to recognize and manage them, I recommend checking out the following blog posts and books: My post today on Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety, “Carts of Outdoor Plants Arriving Indoors? Watch Out for Stowaways!”, has a couple of great book recommendations and cultural tips, and further back on Garden Variety, check out “Good Bug or Bad Bug? Let’s See Some ID Please”. Also check here on this blog under the ‘Beneficial Insects’ header and ‘Entomology’ headers on the right side bar for previous articles, like this one on helpful insects, and other useful online resources. You will also find more entomological (the study of insects) book recommendations on the ‘Library’ page at left!

Ladybird Beetles Seeking Shelter in Numbers in the Siding!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.

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This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.

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For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff


The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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