LOWER EAST SIDE — On Sunday afternoon Edward "Bud" Shalala is planning to increase the population of the Lower East Side by 140,000.
As head of the Critter Committee at M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden, Shalala will be overseeing a release of some 140,000 of the winged beetles to help build up the indigenous insect population and delight children while curbing a ladybug's main food — aphids, a notorious plant pest.
Ladybugs are the first of many insects to be released this summer. The group will also unleash fireflies, preying mantis and crickets in an effort to boost the garden's insect population.
"We are going to distribute them in the entire garden," said Shalala, 60, a local abstract artist and avid gardener. The ladybugs are currently in transit from Cornell University's Department of Entomology, which has partnered with the garden on its planned releases.
"I have to move some of the lettuce, the scallions, ice tea to make room for the ladybugs," joked Shalala. The creatures will be stored in his refrigerator in the run-up to Sunday's event.
In keeping with the philosophy of M'Finda Kalunga, located behind the BRC Senior Services Center at 30 Delancey St. between Chrystie and Forsyth streets, the afternoon release will be a community event. Children will be the main focus with a customized "Pin the Spot on the Ladybug" game and about 100 magnifying glasses on hand to allow curious eyes to get close to a beetle.
"Community outreach is really a big part of the garden," Shalala said.
In preparation for the release some of M'Finda Kalunga's volunteer gardeners will be dousing the garden and keeping it wet until the bug distributions begins at 2 p.m. The main release will be at 4 p.m.
"You don't want them in the heat of the sun," said Shalala. "We have to soak down the garden because they want wet leaves and wet soil."
Shalala started the now nine-member Critter Committee last November.
That same month he reached out to Cornell University's Dr. John Losey, whose organization, the Lost Ladybug Project, rediscovered the nine-spotted ladybug in Long Island last year. Prior to the find, it was thought that the insect, despite its status as the state’s insect, had vanished from New York, according to a New York Times article.
Now Losey and fellow Cornell bug expert Dr. Leslie Allee are directing the garden on its insect releases and have given them a grant to purchase this year's ladybugs.
"We are not going to have anything without their approval," said Shalala. While the garden is hoping to populate with the nine-spotted ladybugs in 2013, this year's stock will be the convergent ladybug.
"We have to know what kind of cricket to get or what kind of firefly. Are they indigenous to the area? Will they work with the other insects in the community," said Shalala on the variables Cornell helps them consider.
M'Finda Kalunga, which started in 1982, is its own ecosystem with two co-presidents chosen through democratic elections every year to lead the 40 volunteer gardeners. There is also a Chicken Committee, and a two-person Turtle Committee.
Besides the insect releases this summer, the garden will again be hosting at least two chickens after its coop renovations finish in a few weeks. A turtle pond is also in the works with help from nationally renowned turtle expert and garden member Richard Ogust.
"He is guiding us on how the turtle pond should be built, how deep it should be," said Shalala. Red-eared sliders should be stock in the pond over the next few months.
M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden's ladybug release will begin at 2 p.m. with the main release from 4 to 6 p.m.
The garden is open to the public from noon until 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday as well as Thursday 5 to 7 p.m each week.
For those interested in volunteer gardening M'Finda Kalunga holds a meeting on the second Sunday of the month at noon in the garden at 30 Delancey St.