They buzz past your ear, borough through the soil, and crawl on everything. Insects outnumber humans by more than 170 million to one. It may sound nightmarish, but these creatures have been unfairly demonized. Yes, there are many bad bugs – those that destroy your vegetables, sting painfully, and even carry disease. But there are many more good insects – those that fertilize our crops, produce useful products, and eat the bad bugs.
Bees are the best pollinators in the insect world. Their furry little bodies carry an electrostatic charge that allows pollen to adhere to the tiny baskets on their legs. European honeybees are known not only for the honey and beeswax they produce, but also as a critical pollinator for large-scale agriculture. These operations purchase or lease beehives every year to assist in pollination. And every year, the number of hives available dwindles. The honeybee has seen a drop of more than fifty percent since the 1940’s. Two main causes of this decrease are Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and the widespread use of insecticides. The continued decline of the species has the potential to put the world’s food supply in jeopardy. The bees desperately need our help.
An army of ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, praying mantises, and assassin bugs keep populations of pest insects at bay. One ladybug can eat an astounding 5,000 insects in its lifetime. The lacewing is a delicate looking creature with translucent green wings that feeds on nectar. Its larvae, however, looks like a miniature alligator and eats like one too. The parasitic wasp inserts her eggs into the bodies of the pest insect. The wasp’s larvae eat the insect host from the inside out. A top predator, the praying mantis grabs it prey with lightning quick speed. Grasshoppers are a favorite. And the assassin bug ambushes its prey, sucks it dry, and leaves behind mummified remains.
Increase crop production, help the environment, and delegate your pest control to beneficial insects by creating a supportive environment.
Many beneficial insects depend on flowers – pollen and nectar – for food. Large numbers and diverse species are key to attracting a wide variety of insects. To provide food throughout the season, plant a variety of annuals and perennials at various times. Plant old-fashioned, open-pollinated flowers generously. You might try aster, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, clover, Joe-pye weed, salvia, spiderwort, and sunflowers. Flowering vines planted along fences work equally well and add to the buffet. Your state agricultural extension office can help you with plant recommendations. Allow herbs, cabbages, kale, radishes, and a few weeds to bloom.
For a well-balanced insect population, plant as many flowers as vegetables. Weave groupings of flowers among your crops or surround your garden with a border of flowering plants.
Consider providing other habitats on your property to support the natural ecology. Build a small pond to attract frogs, toad, and lizards. They can eat a huge number of insects. Flowering trees and shrubs provide habitat, not only for insects, but also for birds. Hedges planted along the edges of a property provide valuable nesting sites for these champion insect hunters. Another deadly insect predator is the bat. If you happen to have a dead tree on your property that is not a danger to any structure, please leave it for the bats. If not, consider installing bat houses.
Use insecticides and other pesticides only as a last resort and very sparingly, spraying when there is little or no wind during the middle of the day when insect activity is at a minimum. Remember, most pesticides are broad-spectrum causing beneficial insects to be collateral damage.
In a balanced natural ecosystem, pest infestations are rare. Any population explosion of pest insects quickly becomes a buffet for beneficial insects, birds, lizards, and other amphibians.
A Final Thought
The perfectly manicured, weed-free garden is a sterile place, devoid of life and ecologically disastrous. A certain grace comes with accepting and working with nature rather than against it. Choose plants that are well adapted to your area and plant a diversity of flowering species. Resist the urge to use insecticides, relax, and let your garden go just a little wild.