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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What can you tell me about rearing ladybugs for resale?

New Mexico

Answer: Thank you for your question about rearing ladybugs. I have pasted an excerpt from the book, BENEFICIAL INSECTS - HOW TO MASS-REAR FOR A PROFIT because is addresses your question rather well. As this excerpt notes, most ladybugs sold commercially are collected, not reared.

Begin Excerpt: Is the above a misnomer? Perhaps, but a few people are trying to rear ladybugs. If their efforts prove successful, it will be a boon to the ladybug industry. Ladybugs sold today are from the wild where they cluster together by the thousands when the weather turns cold. They're brought in and sold to the public. Most of the time this is done in a slipshod manner.

Wild ladybugs are often infected with parasites - up to 20% of them. Also when they're sold without being pre-conditioned the ladybugs fly away from the release area and the customer has spent his money for nothing. This procedure doesn't bode well for good business relations.

Those growers who try to do better pre-condition the ladybugs with food and also weed out the parasitized ladybugs. Then the handler has a reasonably healthy crop to sell to the customer. Pre-conditioning helps satisfy the ladybug's instinct to fly away upon release. Even with a heavy aphid population at hand, a recently released ladybug taken from the wild will fly away.

Pre-conditioning entails surrounding the captured ladybugs with a large tent-like structure and feeding them well. The food is usually wheast or other preparations. Both of these activities satisfy the ladybug's tendency to fly away and keep them in good health where they are ready to lay their eggs as soon as the customer applies them to his crops. Unless you get your ladybugs already pre-conditioned, this should be the procedure you should use if you also deal in ladybugs.

The value of ladybugs to the customer is that each adult will consume as much as 5,000 aphids! They are indeed voracious eaters and have a variety of pest insects upon which they will feed. These include the Colorado potato beetle larvae as well as may kinds of aphids and thrips.

Ladybug larvae which look like little alligators with orange spots have an appetite just as great as the adult's. A ladybug larva will consume 50 or more aphids a day.
Ladybugs will lay up to 50 eggs per day. If conditions are good, the ladybug will lay a total of up to 1500 eggs. The eggs are laid on the bottom side of plant leaves. Within 2 to 5 days the larvae will hatch out and live for three weeks. At the end of that time they will pupate. It then takes about 4 days for them to emerge as adults.
The ideal temperature for ladybugs is between 62 and 80 degrees. If the temperature goes lower than 55 degrees ladybugs will slow down and not fly. They can be kept in storage for up to three weeks at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The relative humidity should be around 70 per cent.


Perhaps. Here is a suggested way of going about it. If you try this method do so on a limited scale. Make sure it works before going whole hog at it. One producer has been raising ladybugs on Angoumois grain moth eggs for well over a year. To do this you would have to construct an open type setup. You would first make an enclosure which would keep the ladybugs and their larvae inside. This enclosure could be some sort of netting with holes too small for either the adult or the larvae to get through. The enclosure should be large enough to allow the adults to fly around inside.

You would have to have a means of feeding them. Sheets of waterproofed paper with smears of wheast could be hanging about. Also cotton balls which have been wetted down with water should be hanging here and there. Also there should be selected areas where the larvae might get a drink. Overall even this strategy would be difficult to maintain. How to collect them or their eggs? Difficult under this plan.

You can't keep them cooped up like you do with lacewing or Trichogramma. Ladybugs must have room to fly. Perhaps you can come up with a practical scheme. I don't see any problems with the feeding part of it; you could supplement with meal worms which you can raise yourself.


It would be difficult to sterilize a setup as outlined above. If you get your ladybugs from a supplier, be sure to get those which have been pre-conditioned and which don't have parasites. Be on guard for parasites anyway and get rid of them immediately if you find any. Remember: a satisfactory and sterile setup is mandatory. As an aside, a parasitized ladybug is immobile. It's alive but cannot move. The parasite is inside.

Since ladybugs are sold to the customer as adults, you would have to have a way to collect them. Perhaps by temporarily lowering the temperature to that listed above you could immobilize them to where they could be collected and sold.
But let's face it. This is all conjecture. The results of that one producer who says he's rearing ladybugs are not known. Ladybugs at present are still taken from the wild. Sometimes they're pre-conditioned and de-parasitized.
In the final analysis, this is something a producer would do when curiosity got the best of him. End of Excerpt.

Ladybugs live approximately one year. They hatch during April and May and immediately start to eat insects. The larva grow to about half an inch in length and look like small alligators, dark gray in color, with orange spots. After they reach full size, they go into a molting condition, clinging to weeds, grass stems, bark and leaves. After a few days their backs slit open and adult ladybugs emerge. Hippodamia convergens is the most common variety of ladybug. It grows to about 3/10" long, and is reddish brown with 13 black spots and two oblique white stripes just in back of the head.

Purchased Ladybugs: Release Instructions

Ladybugs will become dormant at low temperatures and may at first appear dead. As they warm up they become active. They will require water after their long dormancy, so sprinkle or irrigate gently before releasing them. If your ladybugs have been in storage for a long time, it is very helpful to feed them prior to release. Your local nursery may carry feed for ladybugs; a mixture of honey and bee pollen can also be used. Apply the food source to the screening of the ladybug case so they can feed on it prior to release. Ladybugs received during March, April, and May will be nearing the end of their life cycle and should not be refrigerated for long. If possible, release them the evening of the day they arrive. Do not release ladybugs during the heat of the day or while the sun is shining. Refrigerate them until it is nearly completely dark. If you do this, you will find them busily ridding your garden of pests the day after they are received. To prevent ladybugs from flying away, some growers spray a mixture of equal parts water and carbonated soft drink on their ladybugs immediately before releasing them. This sticky mixture glues their wings together for a day or two, discouraging them from flying away. For best results, place a few ladybugs around flowers, shrubs, and trees each day and keep the remaining ladybugs in the refrigerator. Do not allow ladybugs to freeze. In large fields, scatter the ladybugs in a central area and in spots where pest infestations are greatest. Ladybugs may be used successfully indoors, but must be released at night to prevent them from flying away. It may be desirable to screen the entrances to greenhouses or indoor areas to prevent the ladybugs from flying away before they have laid more eggs. Female ladybugs require a nectar and pollen source in order to mature and lay eggs. It is very important to have plant diversity, including a mixture of flowering plants, to provide this. If natural nectars and pollens are not available in sufficient quantities, provide an alternate source of food, such as those available at nurseries.

Amounts Required
You will receive an average of 70,000 ladybugs per gallon, or 18,000 per quart. Generally, one quart of ladybugs will suffice for a large garden, but you may want to use more if pest density is high. Use one gallon for up to three acres. In orchards, use one gallon per acre. Grain crops may require as little as one gallon for every 10 acres. For melons and cucumbers, use one gallon for every 15 acres. For artichokes, use about 1 gallon for 10 acres. For alfalfa, a gallon for 10 acres around the time of the last frost is normally enough for the first release; after each cutting, a gallon for 15 acres is usually sufficient. For aphid control in corn, use one gallon for 10 acres.


Saffell, H.L. 2009. Rearing Ladybugs?

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Permalink What information can you give me on mist irrigation for vegetative cuttings?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service regarding mist irrigation tools to maintain vegetative cuttings.

A sprinkling system based from drip tube lines, called “micro-irrigation” would work well for cuttings and propagation. This system requires at least 15 psi, but 20-30 psi would get the best results and a finer mist. Dripworks, a drip supply company based in California, has many micro-irrigation spray nozzles (mini jets) that fit into a standard drip line. The mini jets have a 10/32 threaded base and fit into 1/4" tubing, a stake system, rigid risers or pop up risers. Below, under further resources, is a link to the micro-irrigation section of their web site. The pictures help to illustrate the different systems that a mini-jet fits into. This section of their web site also features a video that helps illustrate many of the concepts outlined in this section.

To do this intermittently throughout the day, you would have to set up a timer. Simple timers are available from most landscape and irrigation supply companies for under $50.00. You may also be able to purchase the micro-irrigation spray nozzles from local irrigation suppliers. I included information from Drip works, specifically, because their online catalog demonstrated the micro-irrigation system quite well.

Further Resources:

Dripworks Microirrigation page.

Dripworks online store:
DripWorks, Inc.
190 Sanhedrin Circle
Willits, CA 95490
(800) 522-3747

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Permalink What are some resources for developing a whole farm plan for organic beef cattle production?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on developing a whole farm plan for transitioning to organic beef cattle production.

In this letter I have provided some of the best resources for farm planning and organic transition that are available. These materials will help you evaluate your organic beef enterprise, develop a farm management plan, and prepare for organic transition.

Whole farm planning allows you to evaluate your resources and formulate a management plan to use those resources to generate income on your farm. Expenditures to manage resources are based on the return on investment of each expenditure, and must be evaluated for each specific management scenario. Evaluation is based on monitoring the response of the natural resources to expenditures and necessitates matching the livestock enterprise to management of the resources, both natural resources and management resources. How well you evaluate your resources, formulate an action plan with the information, and monitor resource use will determine the success of your farm.

The ATTRA Beef Farm Sustainability Checksheet provides you with a starting point, and will help you focus on those areas that need attention to move you toward your goals. Remember that every year is different and monitoring of the whole farm from season to season and year to year is important in order to see those differences.

A whole farm assessment and the development of a whole farm plan involves critical analysis of the following aspects of the beef operation:

1. Farm Goals – including income, retirement, family goals, and lifestyle
2. Farm Management – including business planning, recordkeeping, and marketing
3. Cattle Program – including reproduction, health, breeding, genetics, animal selection, and nutrition
4. Forage Program – including soil fertility, forage species selection, grazing system planning, harvested forages, and weed control

Farm Goals and Management

To help in the creation of a holistic business plan rooted in personal, community, economic and environmental values, I recommend a look at Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses (MISA, 2010). It can be accessed online at or you can obtain a copy for $17 by calling the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture office at 612-625-8235 or 800-909-6472.

Cattle Program

There are many good resources available to assist you in evaluating your cattle program, including extension resources in your state. However, information on organic beef production is much less available, so I offer several publications that deal specifically with organic beef.

Cattle Production: Considerations for Pasture-Based Beef and Dairy Producers, ATTRA 2006
Overview of grass-based cattle production, with information on health, feeding, organics, and includes and extensive resource list.

Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA). 2008.
Information on utilizing pasture as the primary source of nutrition, including the nutritional aspects of grazing livestock with minimal use of concentrated supplements.

Livestock Behaviour, Design of Facilities and Humane Slaughter. Grandin Livestock Handling System, Inc. Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Temple Grandin is a recognized leader in the design of efficient and effective livestock handling systems. This site includes publications on handling system design and the how-to of proper livestock handling.

Forage Program

Pasture is the basis of sustainable beef production, and there are some very good resources available to assist you in planning your forage and grazing program.

Pastures: Going Organic
. ATTRA, 2006.

Pasture & Range Information, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
Extensive research-based information on forage and pasture management in the Oklahoma-Arkansas-Missouri-Texas region.

Publications Relating to Pasture and Hayland, USDA-NRCS
Technical notes, plant guides, articles, research, and other valuable publications from the NRCS.

NRCS Grazing Lands
Publications, economic tools, practice standards, all for use by grassland managers and graziers.

Southern Forages, 4th Ed. International Plant Nutrition Institute, 2007.
Practical and reliable source of information on modern forage crop management.

Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs, Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative Publication, 2008.
Strategies that can be used in some or many areas to extend grazing and reduce stored feed needs, thus increasing profit.

Grazing Systems Planning Guide, The University of Minnesota Extension Service. 2003.
Highly recommended for developing a grazing system and pasture management plan. Includes worksheets and recordkeeping forms that are valuable for graziers.

Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2005.
Detailed instructions and diagrams on building electric fencing systems for graziers.

Watering Systems for Serious Graziers. Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2006.
Detailed instructions and diagrams on building livestock watering systems for graziers.

Organic Transition

The holistic principles of organic agriculture are derived from two complementary perspectives. First, organic agriculture is characterized as a biologically-based production system based on natural principles and demonstrating a high degree of sustainability. Second, it is a system that endeavors to preserve the integrity of organic production from contamination with prohibited substances and commingling with non-organic products. In order to meet the biological and ecological demands that define organic agriculture, and to ensure compliance to laws and regulations that serve to foster organic system integrity, conversion to organic production requires the development of an organic system plan. Organic certification of the land requires a transitional period of three years from the last application of a restricted substance. However, yearly inspections and updated applications must be performed to remain in compliance.

Some recommended resources for organic transition are listed below:

National Organic Program

Organic Certification Process
. ATTRA, 2005.

Organic System Plans: Livestock Production. ATTRA, 2006.

NCAT's Organic Livestock Workbook – A Guide to Sustainable and Allowed Practices. NCAT, 2004.

Organic Livestock & Grazing Resources, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. 2007.

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Permalink What information can you provide me on cover crops and crop rotations for organic vegetable production?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on cover crops and crop rotations for organic vegetable production.

Cover Crops:
Cover cropping is another way to minimize off-farm inputs (1). Cover crops are soil-building crops that are not harvested, but are composted or tilled back into the soil. They can be part of a crop rotation, or can be used to prevent soil erosion and improve fertility. When choosing a cover crop you need to make several considerations. There are many ways to use cover crops in a production cycle:

• as a main crop during the primary growing season. Used as a rotational crop, the cover will exclude production of a cash crop.
• as a companion crop, or living mulch, the cover is planted between the rows of the cash crop—for example pumpkins interplanted with white clover.
• as a 'catch' crop for nutrients, planted after harvest of the main crop or between the rows of the cash crop to reduce leaching of nutrients.
• as an off-season crop grown to protect the soil, usually during the winter when there is no main crop—this is not the case in your farm, of course. This is the most common practice in temperate areas.

Crop Rotations:
A rotation plan used in conjunction with cover cropping and compost is an ideal way for a vegetable farmer to increase fertility and organic matter, while minimizing off farm inputs.

In general, many farmers use the season in which the cash crop is produced as a rotation tool. E.g. Spring/ fall crops, winter crops, short season cucurbits, solanaceous crops, etc. Farmers will often plant these “types” of crops in blocks and rotate the entire block each year. E.g. The winter crops of radishes, arugula, lettuce, and beets are planted in block one and rotated to block two next year. This “block” system meshes well with cover cropping, as you can simply have one block in cover crops at any one time. The best way to illustrate this is with some examples. Referenced below is a publication of crop rotation sequences from several diversified vegetable farms titled Managing Crop Rotation Systems. This publication was developed by the New England Small Farm Institute in 2002 as a DACUM from several experienced farmers in the Northeast. As a result of this work, a new book has been published titled Crop Rotations on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual. Information on this book is provided in the Resource section of this letter.

Cover Crops in Annual Rotations

In annual cropping systems, cover crops are often chosen to maximize benefits such as biomass and nitrogen production. However, other factors must also be considered. For example, fitting a cover crop into the sequence of a crop rotation can be difficult. Therefore, fast-growing, drought-tolerant cover crops that require minimal management are preferred. Cover crops with fast germination and good seedling vigor are usually chosen because of their ability to compete with weeds. Also, species with the potential to reduce pest populations should be chosen, while those that harbor diseases or arthropod pests of the cash crops should be avoided.

Common cool-season legumes used as cover crops in annual rotations include vetches, winter pea and bell bean. Because clovers and medics grow slower and compete poorly with weeds and require more management (e.g., mowing), they are used less commonly used in annual rotations. For similar reasons, cereal grains are usually preferred over other grass species, such as bromes, in annual rotations. Sometimes, however, the annual cereal grains can be used as a “nurse crop” for clovers and medics. They are seeded at the same time and the cereal grains are mowed once or twice. This system gives some shelter to the clovers and helps distribute the seed evenly.

In choosing warm- season cover crops, the ability to perform well with minimal irrigation is often of primary consideration. Legume species in this category include cowpea, hyacinth bean and sunn hemp. Typical grass cover crops for warm conditions include sudangrass and sorghum (2).

Please refer to the ATTRA Publication Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures. This publication outlines some of the cover crops used for the specific purposes as outlined above. Another excellent book is, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, by Greg Bowman, Christopher Shirley and Craig Cramer. It describes several rotation and cover crop scenarios for vegetable farms. The Nordell Farm profile is particularly inspiring for many farmers. Finally, in the document by Vern Grubinger titled “Cover Crops and Green Manures” Grubinger describes the benefits of specific cover crops.


(1) Hinman, Tammy. 2007. ATTRA Case letter on cover crops and crop rotations. Butte, MT: ATTRA.

(2) Ingels, et al. 1993. Selecting the Right Cover Crop Gives Multiple Benefits. California Agriculture 43 (5):43-48.


Sullivan, Preston. 2003. Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures. ATTRA Publication # IP024.

Bowman, et al. 1998. Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Sustainable Agriculture Network. Handbook Series 3. Pages 36-39.

NESFI. 2002. Guide to the Expert Farmers’ DACUM Chart for “Managing Crop Rotation Systems.” Belchertown, MA: NESFI.

Grubinger, Vern. 2010. Cover Crops and Green Manures. Brattleboro, VT: University of Vermont Extension. Retrieved June 4, 2010.

Further Resources:

Greg Bowman, Christopher Shirley, Craig Cramer. 2007. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd Ed.. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
This book distills findings from published studies and on-farm experience into a user-friendly reference tool for farmers and agricultural educators. You will find detailed information on how to select cover crops to fit your farm, and how to manage them to reap multiple benefits.

Magdoff and van Es. 2000. Building Soils for Better Crops. 3rd Ed.. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
This book provides step-by-step information on soil-improving practices.

Mohler, Charles and Sue Ellen Johnson. 2009. Crop Rotation on Organic Farms. NRAES.
This Planning Manual provides an in-depth review of the applications of crop rotation-including improving soil quality and health, and managing pests, diseases, and weeds.

The above three books are available for purchase through SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education):
SARE Outreach Publications
PO Box 753
Waldorf, MD 20604-0753
Telephone: (301) 374-9696
Fax: (301) 843-0159
Web site:

Kroeck, Seth. 2004. Soil Resiliency and Health: Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping. Northeast Organic farming Association.
This book renders the tool of crop rotation and its close relative, cover cropping, understandable and available for reducing crop pests and disease and building soil's nutrient level, balance and general health.

Cover Crop Seed Suppliers:
Local feed or field crop seed suppliers often carry many different cover crops. The ATTRA web site also contains a database of organic seed suppliers that includes cover crops:

Fedco Seeds
Organic Growers Supply
PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903
(207) 873-7333
Call to get a catalog
Johnny's Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, Maine 04901
Toll Free: 877-Johnnys (877-564-6697)

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
P.O. Box 2209
Grass Valley, CA 95945
To place an order, call toll free at 1-888-784-1722.

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