Garden insects – how to attract the good and reduce the bad

The garden is full of insects, which are so important. Helping to provide nutrients to the soil and pollenate the plants. We definitely want these creepy crawlers. However, there are a few that cause more harm than good. So how do we remove the insects that damage our plants and keep the ones that help to grow them?

My friend and an inspirational gardener, Tracey, has recently taken the time to learn more about garden pest control. She even built a bug hotel! She was generous enough to share some of her learnings (and awesome pics of her garden) with me, check them out.

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Megan: There are so many creepy crawlers in my garden, which ones are helping the garden?

Tracey: OK so I am so passionate about this… Where to start. There are so many beneficial insects. For every bad bug, there is a good bug waiting to help you.

Ladybugs are my fav. We release thousands every year – the trick is to get them to multiply in your garden. The babies are the ones who are the little assassins. They can eat up to 5000 aphids and soft bodies’ pests in their short life time.

I’ve also experimented a lot with Praying mantises, they feed on pests as well, but can also eat your beneficial insects so I’ve given them a rest.

Wasps – I have always had a fear of wasps, until recently! I LOVE beets, plant them ever year as much and often as I can. I started to get Leaf Miners. They are the larva of a nasty fly that lays its eggs on the underside of leaves of beets, spinach, and other veggies. The larva then feed on the leaf creating little tunnels that can destroy your crops. Paper wasps will literally rip the leaf open and grab the larva and bon appetite! They will also hunt caterpillars including corn ear worms, loopers, and cabbage worms. I love watching them eat!

Bees – super pollinators. I have several mason bee houses and am looking at getting a honey bee colony. The best pollinators around. Below is a Coneflower tucked between squash to attract pollinators.

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Lacewings – also eat insects and are great pollinators.

Megan: As a gardener that does not use chemicals for pest control, how do I get the pests under control?

Tracey: Well the best way I’ve found is to create a habitat that encourages beneficial insects to thrive. If they are there, they will help keep the bad guys in check. I have had a hard time finding any cabbage worms on my brussels sprouts this year, but I see tons of wasps around, so I know the wasps are doing their job!

Megan: How do I attract the good bugs?

Tracey: Bug Hotels! Create areas that they can live and find protection. I also like to leave old dead foliage and branches on the ground over winter. Critters can live underneath and get cozy.

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Megan: What else should we know about garden insects?

Tracey: I think that the more you learn about beneficial insects and what they can do for your garden, the more you will want to invite them in! I think right now one of the most important messages I have is to NOT use pesticides. You’re not just killing the bad guys, you’re killing the good guys too!

“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity.
The garden is about life and beauty and the impermanence of all living things.
The garden is about feeding your children, providing food for the tribe.
It’s part of an urgent territorial drive that we can probably trace back to animals storing food.
It’s a competitive display mechanism, like having a prize bull, this greed for the best tomatoes and English tea roses.
It’s about winning; about providing society with superior things; and about proving that you have taste, and good values, and you work hard.
And what a wonderful relief, every so often, to know who the enemy is.
Because in the garden, the enemy is everything: the aphids, the weather, time.
And so you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth, and growth, and beauty, and danger, and triumph.
And then everything dies anyway, right?
But you just keep doing it.”

-Ann Lamott

Thank you Tracey! 

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