Thursday, June 14, 2012

Friends and Foes


It's that time of the year again: birds are brooding, squirrels are scurrying, and plants want nothing more than to grow! Pictured above are the roots growing from a bunch of basil I had been keeping in water: store-bought herbs often last longer when kept in a glass of water, and if you keep the glass near a windowsill, the herbs will sometimes root. All you need to do is pot the rooted plant up, keep it well-watered, and you could have an almost-free plant.
 

The salad bar is thriving. The difference a few days can make is incredible at this time of the year! The roquette is ready for a good trim, and the radish leaves can be thinned out for the salad bowl. I won't be bringing home any store-bought salads for at least a few months now.

The weather in London has been patchy at best, and definitely on the cooler side of spring. But the sun has deigned to come out, and my little garden is all the more happy for it. The ladybirds I mail-ordered have done a rum job of clearing out all the aphids, and every plants is looking healthy again. Even that sorry-looking chives has shot out new shoots, which made me feel rather sheepish when I came home with a new pot of chives...
 

I spotted a new-comer in the garden, I'm sure you will all recognise the "common" ladybug. However, this big lady is anything but common: she is a Harlequin ladybug, an alien insect from Asia. Harlequins have been introduced to North-America in the mid-80s as a fast-growing, 'natural' pest control. Unfortunately, harlequins have not only spread like wildfire, they are threatening local species of ladybugs. In North-America, native species are similar in size as harlequins -and therefore, very difficult to distinguish- the only difference being that natives are less aggressive and nowhere near as invasive. Harlequins have been known to colonise the inside of homes, and tend to make a nuisance of themselves.
 
 

The problem with Harlequins is more acute in the UK and Europe, because native species are so much smaller than the giant foreigner. (I usually try to avoid getting bits of myself in pictures, but I've had to use my thumb as a gauge of scale.) The invaders are gluttonous eaters, and can easily eat local ladybirds out of house and home. They will even eat native ladybirds, if other source of food are scarce.

Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do on either side of the Atlantic to get rid of this invasive species. Ladybugs, invasive or not, are generally thought of as friendly insects, that greatly encourage the reduction of chemical warfare in gardens. However, there are little steps we can take to help all native and friendly insects better survive in our world. If you do garden -whatever the size- do not use any pesticides; do leave a little bit of a 'mess' of debris to shelter solitary bees, ladybirds, and other insects that like to burrow. For those who do not garden, purchasing sustainably produced fruits and vegetables means that you are supporting farmers who are working to support the ecosystem around their land.



Happy gardening and bon' app'!



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