There are lots (hundreds) of little, tiny, light-colored, football-shaped insects, usually inhabiting the lower leaves of the lettuce growing on my terrace. Washing (i.e., preparing for salad) usually eliminates them (to the eye, anyway) and it tastes ok (usually I’ve only got until this week before it all bolts anyway) but I’m just wondering what the heck these are, how harmful they are to the lettuce (or to me), if they can be easily discouraged.
I have to confess, ‘football-shaped’ threw me for a minute there - I was trying to think of what kind of tiny, spherical insects you might have seen.
Yup, that’s them. Bad for me? Bad for my other veggies?
Dunno about bad for you (I’ve never eaten one) – but definitely bad for the other veggies.
Luckily, they’re not that hard to get rid of – dislodge them with a blast of water and you should be okay.
They won’t harm you if you accidentally ingest a few. They are tiny and don’t have any toxins. Large infestations can be detrimental to plants, and they can easily spread from lettuce to other vegetables. However, if all you have is a few plants on your terrace, you may be able to control them by examining the plants and removing them by hand. Ladybugs eat aphids voraciously, so you could also put a few of those on your plants if you can catch some. However, it may be difficult to get rid of them entirely unless you are very careful. Aphids can reproduce parthenogenetically, so if you miss even a single female you will soon have another infestation.
Hmmm…is there a way to attract ladybugs? Do plant and garden stores sell ladybugs?
A fine company called Gardens Alive! sells them: link.
Full disclosure: I am associated with the marketing firm that represents Gardens Alive! I was, however, a customer of theirs way before I was hired here, and have bought ladybugs from them more than once.
Not sure if they can ship at this time of year, which is why I didn’t mention this in my first post.
A limited infestation of aphids can (as mentioned) be readily controlled by washing them off the plants. If they’re not obviously being eaten badly or looking stressed, this is the best way to go. An insecticidal soap spray also works well.
As twikster mentions, ladybugs can be purchased commercially for pest control, but since they generally come in lots of 100s or more, this would be overkill (literally) for a small terrace garden, and most of them will soon fly away home. These commercial lots would be more suitable for a large garden. As has been mentioned, it is better to rinse your plants, but if you can come by a handful of ladybugs it won’t hurt. A thousand ladybugs on your terrace will probably be worse than the aphids.