Where Do Ladybug Larvae Come From?
Most ladybug larvae will be available as a shipment or a kit, unless you have a local garden center that specializes in beneficial insects. If this is the case, definitely aim to get some local ladybug larvae, since a local grower will know the most about varieties that thrive in your area. However, educational kits from places like Insect Lore ship with live larvae and educational material about your new ladybug eggs, which are convenient and allow you to have a housed area for the ladybugs to grow.
Many places sell live, adult ladybugs, but there are reasons why this may not be the best way to go. Unless the ladybugs are native to your region, they will most likely carry parasites. Statistics claim that as many as 20% of ladybugs carry them that will travel with your shipment and, when released in your garden, infect the native insect population. Look for locally sourced adult ladybugs or ladybug larvae grown elsewhere to minimize the risk of parasites.
How Long Till Maturation?
From the arrival of live larvae to the release of your ladybugs, the process will likely take about 3 weeks. Ladybugs should be released approximately 1 week after they emerge from their pupa, looking like grown ladybugs. Much longer than this and you'll get less of the pest control benefits for your garden.
Keep in mind that ladybugs do look for warm places and tend to hibernate during the winter months, so time your cultivating and ladybug harvest accordingly.
How to Store Your Ladybug Larvae
While the larvae themselves don't need a lot of room, and the plastic houses in the kits would work for keeping them trapped, there are other options as they grow. You can use a variety of containers that allow air in, and one blogger suggested that a bug hotel that resembles a closed-up mesh clothes hamper would be a great place to keep your larvae as they begin to mature and want space to fly. This is a major concern in large-scale ladybug growing, since enclosures are hard to make. However, on a small scale, you can keep a reasonable quantity in a clean fish tank that has been fashioned with a tight-fitting mesh cover, or any of a variety of well-sealed but small-hole-aerated containers.
What to Feed Your Ladybugs
Your ladybug larvae may be shipped with food, but you'll still want to make sure cotton balls soaked with water are present in their enclosure so that you they remain humid and hydrated. For grown ladybugs that you haven't released yet, it is possible to feed them raisins broken into halves. One good tip is to soak the raisins in water just like the cotton as this will make it easier for the insects to eat.
Pest Control Benefits for Your Garden
Ladybugs love snacking on aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Many of these bugs may have adverse effects on plants in your garden if left alone, but when ladybugs live among them, they will either be eaten by adult ladybugs, or else those ladybugs will lay eggs among the aphids and other pests, which will then allow the larvae to feast upon the aphids. If you have a known aphid problem, you can experiment with adding a leaf or two infested with aphids to your ladybug larvae enclosure, though be aware that you may discover that something else was also on the leaf that eats or harms the ladybug larvae.
If you go the direction of beneficial insects, reevaluate what kinds of chemicals you use in your garden. Many mulches won't have an effect, but some of your fertilizers or pesticides may actually be harmful to your garden's ecosystem, and you don't want to kill the little ladybugs you've so sweetly raised.
Overall, the fun of having ladybug larvae in your home is the chance to grow something from scratch that results in a little bit less pesticide and worry in your life when your garden reaches maturation. The ladybugs you raise are likely to choose various places to live, but the fun of adding new beneficial insects to your garden is the opportunity to swing the local environment in favor of the plants you love and these hearty little bugs, rather than the irritating aphids that want to gobble up your crops.