Volume 8, Week 32, March 30-April 5, 2015
As his preferred method of aphid control, Uncle Vern releases pillowcases full of ladybugs into his orchards every spring. This week: a look behind the scenes at how in the world anyone gets a hold of a pillowcase full of ladybugs.
Ladybug gathering is a mysterious, secretive business, like mushroom hunting; you have to both know where to look and have access to the land. Our lady of the ladybugs here at Abundant Harvest is Trinket Anderson, a women of the woods who grew up hunting, fishing, and wandering the mountains of her family home in Northern California.
In the 1950s, Trinket’s parents discovered that their property was home to a seasonal ladybug colony and they began to supply area farmers with gallons full of bugs to be used as biological pest control. (Ladybugs go wild for aphid, scale, mealybugs, and spider mites.)
The tools of the trade are the same as they were back when Trinket first started gathering bugs in the 1950s: a kitchen spoon, a bucket, pillowcases, and a few batches of wild blackberry jam for the neighboring land owners who let her go bugging on their property.
Organic farmers today still use ladybugs to control pests, and Trinket is still gathering. She, her husband Allen, and their nine-year-old granddaughter Freesia run the family business. They do all the gathering, cleaning, separating, selling, and delivering to nurseries and farmers in California and Nevada themselves. Don’t bother looking for a website—the Andersons keep it simple and don’t have what they don’t need.
Finding the ladybug beds in the woods is a lot like hunting for Easter eggs, Trinket explains, “Only, you always find them.” Ladybugs migrate using the air currents, which enable them return to the same locations every year in the cold months to hibernate in large numbers until the warm temperatures of spring and summer bring out the aphid in the valleys below. Of the beds she knows of, Trinket has never once in all her years of gathering showed up to find that the ladybugs haven’t come back.
Gathering ladybugs sometimes involves long hikes in and out of canyons, dodging rattlesnakes, hornets and ticks, and avoiding poison oak (unless the ladybugs are nesting there—then it’s enduring the poison oak). But to balance the challenges, there is the aroma of the ponderosa pine and cedar, and the sounds of the mountain creeks and wildlife in woods. Yes, encountering a bed of ladybugs with that backdrop is just as magical as it sounds.
“Sometimes you find the ladybugs in the wild roses, or they’re in a wild strawberry bed and we’re eating wild strawberries while we’re bugging,” Trinket said. “It’s an excuse to get out in the woods and I love it, I absolutely love it.”
The quote Trinket chose to share her impression of the experience is printed on the sticker for every container of bugs; it’s from the book of Job and it captures the magic, “Stop and consider God’s wonders.”
You can stop and see it for yourself. Trinket’s ladybugs will be up on our add-on list until we run out. Until next week,