Su Lum: Slumming
July 8, 2009
I was alarmed to read in the papers that all those sticky leaves falling around town are coated with aphid poo, caused by all the wonderful rains and cool weather that have turned the whole valley green and lush. Good news, it seems, often has a downside.
The good news is that we’re not experiencing a drought this year (the fireworks proceeded, the gardens are flourishing), the skies are clear of the choking smoke of forest fires, but, don’t smile too soon, the first bad news is that if we have a dry spell, all this verdancy could turn into more tinder for even bigger fires, and the second bad news is that our flourishing gardens might be decimated by a plague of aphids.
My fava beans, shelling peas and (experimental) Fordhook lima beans are just starting to reach their little tentacles to the sky and grasp the climbing wires that surround them, and the very thought of them being eaten alive by vicious aphids makes my blood run cold.
I first noticed the sticky aphid leaves when my dachshunds, Nicky and Freddie, came inside snapping at their flanks and shaking their paws, leaving piles of leaves in their wake. Leaves on the floor, leaves in the bed, and if you tried to brush them away they would stick to your fingers. What in the world was this new global warming phenomenon of nature gone awry?
When I learned that the leaves were covered with aphid excrement, so heavy that it caused the leaves to drop from the trees as if it were an early autumn (or, to be more specific, dropped from my neighbors’ trees, I having only an ungainly but enormous blue spruce planted by my daughter Hillery almost 40 years ago, and three new lilac bushes in dubious condition), I was alarmed.
A couple of decades ago I had an aphid infestation in my house that resulted in the execution of all of my (such as they were) house plants, an experience that was all to close to euthanazing family pets.
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It started with an indoor tomato plant, from which I hoped to pluck fresh fruit year-round. I think I bought it as a middle-sized plant rather than starting it from seed, possibly the first mistake, but it grew into a robust producer of cherry tomatoes, which were just turning pink when the aphids struck.
You know you have aphids when you’re sitting on the couch reading a book and all of a sudden there’s a vibrating white cloud between your eyes and the pages. You swat at it, as you would at a swarm of tiny gnats, but a few seconds later they’re back.
APHIDS! At first I carefully covered all my baby tomatoes in Saran wrap, took the plant outside and, as advised on the warning label, sprayed the plant with a generous dose of Black Flag. After a few days of inactivity on the part of the aphids, new generations arose and more generations after that, until I was spraying Black Flag with reckless abandon, to no avail, ending with the sad execution of every plant in the house.
That was back when I didn’t know better. Now, the answer appears to be ladybugs, and a good Samaritan, Ginger Janssen, has purchased and unleashed hundreds of thousands of ladybugs to kill the aphids. I had never thought of ladybugs as predators (never, in fact, ever wondered WHAT ladybugs ate), but the cute creatures are flying all around Aspen as I write.
I found one wandering in the bathroom and my friend Hilary, tending the garden, came in asking where all those ladybugs came from, so we know they made it to the East End. Thanks, Ginger!