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Garden Warriors, Released

They came in the mail, shipped from Gardens Alive, right on schedule. Some bright warm day long ago my husband had placed the order in anticipation of summer, and now it had arrived. With that order he extended the best of intentions to practice responsible pest control.

What he ordered were natural defenders, a little bag full of bright red spotted garden warriors, officially known as Coccinellidae, or Ladybird Beetles. These warriors came dressed and shaped a bit like my childhood memories of proper middle aged ladies, (thus, I imagine, their name). And, like those middle aged ladies from childhood, their impact should not be underestimated. Ladybird Beetles, or ladybugs, do a great job of protecting a homey garden from destructive summer pests.

Unfortuanately, summer weather is a little late in making its appearance in the Pacific Northwest this year. The little bag of ladybugs arrived just in time for summer somewhere, only it wasn’t anywhere close to summer here. The ladybugs were poised and ready to eat aphids in some dreamy locale where May and June warm newly exposed arms and legs as people shed layers of clothing to work in the garden. Here, I am still pulling my sweatshirt around myself before going outside even at midday. Somewhere pests are gathering under the shade of succulent leaves, inviting ladybugs to dine voluptuously upon their release. Somewhere these ladybugs would be welcomed and lauded for their unique and stylish ability to clean up the situations while adorning the landscape with their brightly polka-dotted red cloaks. No doubt they are greatly needed somewhere, it’s just that that somewhere isn’t here, at least not this year.

As it turned out the unfortunate ladybugs who arrived at my house were at least a month and half early, and counting. The weather was not warm when they arrived and the sun was not shining. Most years we release our ladybugs on a pleasant evening after a warm day working in the garden. We place their small bag in a shady spot under The Wizard (our tall atlas cedar that towers over the backyard), run the sprinklers to provide cool droplets for the beetles to drink from as they wake from their slumber and prepare for battle, then watch as they emerge and disperse into the yard to begin their noble campaign against garden pests. We usually enjoy this ritual in summer clothes with tall glasses of iced tea. Not this year.

This year there have been very few warm or sunny days. The garden plants are hardly growing. The tomatoes impatiently wait. The basil wilts and folds down on itself until it slowly disappears. No pests gather for the ladybugs to dine on. And yet there they were. Summer had arrived in our mailbox and we felt it urging us to let it go.

We left the bag of ladybugs in the refrigerator for a while. It was possible they would survive there until the weather warmed. Still inclination and research advised against it. It seems that packages of ladybugs sold in the spring are likely to be on the mature side and are best released soon after purchase.

Perhaps it was hope, or maybe resignation, but warned and impatient we finally released them despite the far from optimal conditions. We just couldn’t face waiting any longer only to find the pretty little ladybugs were all expired and never had the chance to drink deeply, to even crawl down a leaf or fly away.

In the end we released them on the windowbox just outside my kitchen window where the warmth from the house might urge them from their bag and where we could watch them without even venturing into the cold damp outdoors ourselves. Lame? I know. My cooling system was calibrated many years ago to the hot sticky summers of Louisville, Kentucky and the searing dry summers of Dallas, Texas. As a result I am unfit company throughout the cool damp spring months of the Pacific Northwest. Despite my wimpy vantage point the ladybugs rose to the occasion. They were fascinating to watch and posed photogenically as they found their way out of the bag and into the wide world beyond.

I doubt many have hung around our uninviting backyard but the good news is that the pests haven’t gathered there yet either. I like to think the ladybugs found their way to more inviting venues. Even their brief stay was worth the investment. These little warriors were able to coax a bright smile from my sun-starved complexion, even while I cowered in the kitchen to watch them.


Ivy said...

How whimsical and exciting! All your pictures are so dreamy.
Here in LA it's June-glume in the morning and then it burns off to be a somewhat nice day.

Schnitzel and the Trout said...

Cute, aren't they? And, they can do a good job also.

grace said...

you write so well, lisa--this was a great read. :)

Cathy said...

Summer may just pass us by this year. At this rate tomatoes won't be ripe until October. Very nice post, Lisa.

June said...

Beautiful post and amazing photos. Wish I could send you some sun and heat. You're more than welcome to it!