We were extremely fascinated and - we're not gonna lie - slightly disgusted as M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden's Bud Shalala held up a leafy tree branch so that we could see the clustered, wart-like aphid pods that have been plaguing a tree in the Lower East Side garden. The pests had long been eating up the garden's roses and laying their larvae in various plants, but now it seems that there's a new sheriff in town - 140,000 ladybugs! The polka-dotted red critters were donated to the garden by the Department of Entomology at Cornell University and released last Sunday to serve as a natural, pesticide-free way to keep the hungry aphids at bay. We were intrigued to hear all about how the new ladybugs are helping the green space and we even got a few of them to participate in a photo shoot, so click through our gallery to feast your eyes on these photogenic creatures as well as the not-so-photogenic aphid agglomerations.
We were already fans of ladybugs and the chemical-free pest control they provide before we stepped foot in the M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, but we grew even fonder of them as we learned more about them from the head of the garden’s Critter Committee, Bud Shalala. “The nine-spotted ladybug is our New York state insect,” explained Shalala (we had no idea). “The ones given to us by Cornell are not nine-spotted ladybugs – those actually haven’t been around here for years…something that they’re looking into right now, but yes, the ladybug is our official insect.”
After sitting in a cool, shady spot with Bud and Bob Humber, M’Finda’s head gardener who has been with the garden since the 70s when he would patrol the area on bike to make the adjacent park safe for children (as you might know, the Lower East Side was quite different back then), we asked how difficult it would be to meet some ladybugs. “If you sit here for a while, chances are one will come crawling on you,” Bud told us. And lo and behold, as we ventured just a few feet into the patches of greenery, we came face to antennas with one little ladybug and then a flip of a leaf revealed a whole community of them.
Aphid galls plaguing a tree in the M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden
The ladybug sightings became fewer and farther in between as we ventured further into the garden past its chess tables, bocce ball court, compost heap and miniature oasis until Bud came to point out one particular tree that needed the insects’ help the most. “Look at the leaves,” he pointed. At first we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary until we spotted them – clusters and clusters of green warts growing right out of the tree’s leaves. “The aphids are inside of those,” Bud explained, to our horror. The bumps, also known as aphid galls, are a type of plant tissue that the aphids manipulate in order to provide them with both food and shelter. Though we didn’t dare touch them, if we’d cut open one of the galls, we could expect to find writhing masses of aphids inside – cringe.
Clearly, we didn’t see any change or improvement yet on the tree (since the ladybugs only arrived a few days ago), but we did see a large population of the spotted bugs hanging out near, and in some cases, right on top of the aphid galls, presumably waiting for a snack. We’re hoping to visit again soon in a few months to see if the galls have decreased in number.
Judging from the more than 200 delighted children that attended the event on Sunday, the ladybug release was a great success – but the Critter Committee isn’t done buggin’ out yet. They plan to adopt crickets, praying mantises and turtles for the garden and they’re even planning an all-natural fireworks event this coming Wednesday for the Fourth of July except that instead of using fireworks, they’re hoping to light up the space with real fireflies!
As you might imagine though, bio-luminescence is a bit costly, so the event will only happen if they receive enough funding. If you’d like to see the firefly party come to fruition, please visit MKGarden.org and click on the ladybug on the right to donate.
The M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden is open to the public on Thursdays from 5PM – 7PM and weekends from 12PM – 4PM.