Learning From the Aphids

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We do not like aphids! As master gardeners, we love to learn about gardening! So let me tell you, last season, at the Goodness Garden, we learned all about aphids.

In early October, the team planted collards, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in three raised beds. We were thinking how wonderful it would be for the folks at the Storehouse Food Bank to get some nice fresh veggies for the holidays. We carefully planted these raised beds with lots of plants. Arches were made from PVC pipe for each bed so we could cover them to keep out those pesky cabbage worms. After that threat was over, we removed the covers. It worked! No worms were found, but we found aphids. Ugh! Millions were attached under most plant leaves in all three beds. The bed with broccoli and cauliflower was the worst. The cabbage and collards soon followed. These tiny sucking insects Aphidoidea are among the most destructive insects on cultivated plants in temperate zones. That’s us! We quickly sprayed, more like drenched, each plant over and under each leaf with neem oil. Control was not easy. After a couple of weeks of diligent applications, as you know our master gardeners would do, we gave in. The aphids were returning daily! It was exasperating! All the plants were pulled up and trashed.

In reflection, we learned that mostly the aphids took over because the plants were stressed by growing under covers in the hot and dry conditions of this past fall. We neglected to inspect the underside of the leaves, since the covers were in place, not thinking of other intruders. The aphids went undetected until too many took over.

We learned that there are over 5,000 species of aphids, 400 of which are found on foods. Mostly, a few don’t cause too much trouble but they breed so profusely that they multiply quickly. Winged females colonize new plants. Horticultural oil sprays can be effective as can diatomaceous earth; however, applications should be done before a grand infestation starts.

Lady bugs can help keep the population down as well. So, we learned a few good lessons here! And, as gardeners do, we’ll try again next year. Hopefully, aphid free.

Written by Sue Howren, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer – Carteret County