March of the Soldier Beetles
Our great hope for the orchard is that we can avoid using insecticides - known to kill off good bugs and bees as well as the intended bad ones. Whether this is a realistic aspiration time will tell. We were therefore disappointed to recently find two of our young trees smothered in little white aphids. The trees in question are much smaller than the rest - only three months on since planting most are flourishing and some have more than doubled their planting height. Although a few have sustained some rabbit damage, this has been limited and extra protection put in place when identified (the extra protection happen to include the arrival of two rescue cats who are frequently seen patrolling the orchard!). The two trees of concern, both Kingston Blacks (makes excellent cider!), are definitely stunted and will possibly fail. However, this invasion of aphids would certainly not help.
Our options, other than spraying, included purchasing live ladybirds to come and feast on them - however how many packs of 25 ladybirds would we need? And how do we keep them around? We decided we would need to try a soap spray initially - much more friendly than an insecticide. However, the next day when I went to inspect the trees and prepare a spray I found them covered with a large orange bug of some kind. A new one on us, but later identified as a Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva). My first thought was that surely the trees won't survive a second invasion. However, within 24 hours all the aphids were gone, and the presumably now-quite-plump soldier beetles were packing up and moving on. Meanwhile our own ladybird population is rising without the need to artificially 'import' them.
Nature - it's wonderful isn't it?