My life as an indoor micro-farmer has not been without its challenges. My Windowfarm is approaching its first anniversary and I have been through two rounds of seed starting, each time learning something the hard way. The first go around, I chose plants that didn’t give me much of a return: the kale harvest cooked down to about a half a cup, the tomatoes never even flowered, but the arugula did – leaving me with a few bitter leaves. Getting hip to the reality that my apartment would not be the source of all our leafy greens, I decided to focus on herbs and planted the second round of my Windowfarm with parsley, sage, cilantro, basil and dill. To that, I added two self watering windowboxes with rosemary, thyme, chives, mint and – my favorite – shishito peppers.
Oh, my lovely shishitos! They were the plant that was thriving the most until one day when I noticed that they were crawling with…. aphids! And I mean that literally. One day they were happy little peppers confirming that I, indeed, did have a green thumb, and the next they were teaming with bugs. Seriously? I was pissed.
The internets are abundant with natural ways to kill aphids. The least invasive is to spray your plant with water, so I decided to start there. For a few days, I actually rinsed my small shishito plant in the sink and while the aphids seemed to disappear down the drain, they were replaced by their friends and relatives from god knows where the next day. I looked at recipes that included garlic and citrus and neem oil, concocting a neem oil spray that was supposed to send the little f%&kers into convulsions upon contact, but the payoff was anti-climatic. The aphids were winning, having spread to the other plants. Even my chives – which I planted as a pest deterrent (and because they are delicious on scrambled eggs) became infested with thrips – tiny gnat-like flies that like to suck the out the insides of your delicate plants. Assholes. I had to pull out most of the plants, throw them away and start again. It felt like the 10 plagues.
This time, I needed to take my pest control up a notch by introducing a predator. Having read, The Grouchy Ladybug at least a thousand times, I was aware that ladybugs love to eat aphids (and also thrips!), so I set about trying to get my hands on some. There are several outfits that will sell you ladybugs for garden pest control, but the minimum number one could order was 1,500. That seemed excessive for a Windowfarm and two indoor boxes. Ladybugs are cute, but 1,500 ladybugs is sort of gross. How could I get my hands on only a few ladybugs?
Enter Ladybug Land! Insect Lore is a company that sells bug kits for kids to learn about the fascinating world of insects. We have enjoyed their butterfly gardens and it was while I was looking into getting some cocoons that I noticed they also sell ladybug kits! You purchase the kit and then they send you 15-20 ladybug larve that you can watch develop into full-grown aphid eating machines. It was a fun project to do with the kids and yielded the perfect number of ladybugs for our microfarming needs. Did you know that ladybugs are yellow when they first emerge from their cocoons? Did you know they like to eat raisins? Me neither!
Now I have a flourishing windowbox of shishito peppers, mint, thyme and rosemary. The ladybugs are on patrol and the aphids appear to be gone. Not sure how long the ladybugs will live or if I will have to order a new batch, but for now all is as it should be. Until the next plague appears. I’m just hoping it’s not a ladybug plague.