Strange beasties are afoot in the fennel; looking like some sort of miniature extra-terrestrials. They have sinister black and orange markings, seeming to me halfway between a scorpion and a caterpillar.
Luckily they are in fact good guys – ladybird larvae – whose ugliness is equalled only by their appetite for aphids. This makes them a very useful ally for the gardener: they certainly came in handy a few weeks ago when I noticed a growing greenfly infestation on my fennel plants. Fortunately for me I also noticed some of these bad boys lurking in the foliage, so, instead of reaching for the insecticide, I stepped back and watched nature take its course.
Over several days the ladybird larvae chomped right through the aphids, and now my plants are clean and healthy, and we have even more ladybirds to help with the next infestation. The larvae are turning steadily into pupae (see picture), ready to emerge later on in the summer as fully-grown ladybirds.But how do you attract these pest predators? I’ve never really held with the ‘grow nettles for wildlife’ thing, as the countryside is full of nettles (especially where there’s nutrient-rich runoff from slurry heaps and artificial fertilisers). However, looking at the nettle patch behind my allotment I came to a slightly different conclusion. It is humming with life; and especially full of ladybirds and their larvae, just waiting to move onto the vegetables and fruit beyond.
It’s also interesting to note that nettles have their own aphid species, the cunningly-named Common Nettle Aphid (Microlophium carnosum), which provides ideal food for ladybirds but attacks only nettles. And you can use nettles too, in cooking, or even a liquid feed, much like comfrey. So maybe I’ll leave my nettle patch just a little longer…