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Do You Have an Aphid Infestation? Here are Some Natural Ways to Get it Under Control

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Do You Have an Aphid Infestation? Here are Some Natural Ways to Get it Under Control

Nathaniel Kirby

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Aphids are the plight of many farmers, literally sucking the life out of their crops. Rapid population growth can put a huge strain on crops. Aphids are small soft-bodied insects that attach themselves to host plants and suck out the sweet juices from inside. This destructive behavior has earned them the nickname “plant lice.” Most farmers would turn to traditional pesticides to control an aphid outbreak, but students in Rockport have done their homework and found three very clever, natural ways to reduce aphid levels, while avoiding chemicals and keeping food safe for consumption.

The first method is the simplest–companion planting. For thousands of years, native Americans have planted certain plants near each other in order that both plants will benefit. This technique can also be used to keep aphids away from important plants. By planting aphid attracting plants near important crops, aphids will leave the important crops alone, instead choosing to attack the nearby “bait-plants.” Companion planting also works by planting repelling plants near important ones, thereby keeping aphids away.

 

Kale leaf infested with aphids. The enlarged brown aphids have been infected by the parasitic wasp.

The second method gets into some more complex ecological interactions. By planting certain kinds of plants, farmers can attract a special kind of parasitic wasp–but don’t panic, it doesn’t harm humans! These parasitic wasps, known by the scientific name of Pemphredoninae, only pose a threat to aphids. Ready for the gross part–these wasps pierce the soft flesh of aphids and lay their eggs inside. After a short time, the wasp larvae hatch, causing the aphid to swell and harden. Eventually, the wasp will break out of the aphid, leaving behind an “aphid mummy.” These wasps don’t pose any threat to other species, unlike chemical pesticides, and are therefore an effective, yet environmentally friendly way to control aphids.

 

 

A lacewing larva eating an aphid.

The last method that students have been exploring is an aphid predator called the green lacewing. The adult insects only eat plant nectar and are beautiful, but the larvae are ravenous aphid predators. A single larva can eat up to 500 aphids before transforming into an adult. By leveraging the combined aphid destroying power of an aphid predator and an aphid parasite, farmers and gardeners can control aphid populations naturally.

However, the struggle is not completely over for your garden because, while we certainly don’t like aphids, another animal really does–ants. Aphids produce a sweet liquid called “honeydew” which ants love. In order to keep this supply coming, ants “farm” aphids, and protect them. This means that ants try to kill the natural predators and parasites which can control aphids (ecology is very complex!). In order to keep the ants at bay, and thus protect the aphid predators and aphid parasites, you’ll need one more all-natural pesticide. This time, the miracle ant killer is simply borax laundry detergent. Borax is not harmful to any species but ants, so by mixing it with syrup (which attracts them, as you have probably discovered if you have ever left any out overnight), it forms a great ant killer.

So, getting aphids under control is a challenge, for sure. But by doing some research and understanding the ecology, it is easy to find effective remedies without harming the environment. Next time you have a pest problem, make sure to consider your options before turning to chemicals.

About the Writer
Nathaniel Kirby, Local Events Contributor

Nathaniel Kirby is a junior at Rockport High School and is involved in many of the school's clubs, such as the Green Team and the Math Team. Nathaniel...

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Do You Have an Aphid Infestation? Here are Some Natural Ways to Get it Under Control