Hey, folks. Today, we’re going to look at beneficial insects – what they are, why they’re good, and how to attract them.
But first, I want to talk about sleeping. Does everybody get great sleep and good rest? Ugh. I don’t, usually. Racing brain, thinking about all the stuff I didn’t get done, all the stuff I need to do, all the stuff I’d like to do. It just goes on and on, night after night. Some of you know that one of my big things is “NO DRUGS.” As in pharmaceuticals. By now, most of us have heard of, or know of at least one person who has gone on walkabout, or driveabout, or made a huge meal at three o’clock in the morning under the influence of a prescription sleep aide, right? If you haven’t, read about that here.
I like things natural, no nasty side effects, and no icky hangover-like feelings in the morning, but a lot of those products either don’t work very well, or flat out don’t work at all. I was given the opportunity to try this new one, called Ah Sleep. Sure, it’s got ingredients with which I’m already familiar – but as singular elements. Actually, I’ve never seen a product that combines these elements – phenibut (essentially GABA), passion flower, inositol, and melatonin – in this way.
I figured, “It can’t hurt, it might help,” and decided to give it a try.
I gotta tell you … this stuff – Ah Sleep – it’s really awesome. Worked like a charm. It worked quickly. I stayed asleep. I didn’t wake up feeling groggy. I felt good. Like I’d truly gotten good, restful sleep. And I was actually READY to get up when I woke up, instead of malingering like a very large slug. If you’re interested in trying it, Master Holistics is offering a discount, using the coupon code: Ah Sleep. You can find more information here.
In most gardens, bugs have a bad reputation: We call them pests, curse them when we find our crops eaten and sometimes even consider poisoning them with chemical pesticides. Yet, more than 97 percent of insects and spiders in home gardens and landscapes are actually beneficial. They either do no harm, provide food for desirable species such as birds, or prey upon insects that are destructive to our crops and flowers.
When it comes to maintaining the health of our gardens without turning to hazardous chemicals, good bugs may be among our best allies. Knowing how to identify the most common beneficial insects, and how to help and not harm them in your garden, will help you minimize pest problems and the use of pesticides.
There is a hidden world in and around our gardens that we can begin to understand if we use patience, observation and a bit of hard science. (I love science!) In fact, the plant and insect life in our gardens is so deeply intertwined, scientists now know that some plants emit a chemical alarm signal when pest insects begin feeding on them, alerting nearby beneficial insects to respond. If your garden is fully stocked with beneficial bugs, they can become your pesticide-free pest patrol.
If we think about our gardens as complete and sustainable ecosystems, rather than a collection of individual plant species, it can help us learn what causes insects to come to our garden in the first place, what makes them want to hang out, and which ones we hope will do so.
Lots of gardeners have problems with mites, and – trust me – there are a LOT of different kinds of mites that can damage the flowers you have so carefully tended or the crops that you babied along during the summer. The good news is that there are predators for just about every kind of crop- and flower-damaging mite. More mites! Yep, it’s true. Specific mites that prey on other mites. The ones we hear about most frequently are spider mites and russet mites. This place has some great information on a range of predatory mites, on what other mites they prey, and even where to buy them!
Most of us wait until we have an actual problem in the garden, then try to combat the issue by ordering beneficial insects from a mail-order supply. This is unlikely to help solve the problem. The new insects will eat then leave after a day or two. If we hope to maintain a supply of natural pest-killers, our goal is to attract and nurture beneficial insects long enough that they stay and lay eggs, hatching new generations of pest protection.
Another reason to keep beneficial bugs around to lay eggs is that adult insects eat far less than just-hatched hungry larvae. Take, for instance, ladybug beetles, one of the best-known beneficial insects with more than 450 species native to North America alone. A single adult ladybug beetle will eat 50 aphids in a single day and lay hundreds of eggs. The young hatch, however, will devour thousands of aphids, mealy bugs, scales, spider mites, thrips, whiteflies and other slow-moving insects. Cultivating ladybug beetles in several lifecycle stages will be the most beneficial.
Growing the right type of plants is key in attracting beneficial insects to make their homes in our gardens. Researchers have identified a few plant groups with flowers that easily provide nectar and pollen to insect friends: plants in the daisy family such as aster, cosmos and yarrow; plants in the carrot family such as cilantro, dill, parsley and fennel; alyssum and other members of the mustard family; mints; borage, sunflowers and buckwheats. As you select plants, keep in mind bloom time, aiming to provide sources of nectar throughout the growing season.
How we plant for beneficial insects is also key. Companion planting is a time-honored method of placing plants together to attract beneficial insects while deterring harmful ones. Roses, for instance, are susceptible to aphids; under planting roses with sweet alyssum attracts parasitic wasps that eat aphids. Nasturtiums and marigolds do the same thing for vegetable gardens, providing a colorful element while acting as a protector, drawing aphids away from tomatoes and other garden crops. You can find organic Heirloom seeds for most or all of these plants, at great prices, right here.
While interplanting can help protect specific plants, it’s also wise to plant a permanent space for beneficial bugs near your garden plants. This offers an undisturbed space for beneficial bugs to feed, reproduce and overwinter, ensuring you will keep your garden friends for multiple seasons. Mimic natural systems by adding borders or strips of diverse perennial vegetation, including flowers, shrubs and grasses. Make sure to research which plants are native to your area and include some of these natives in your plantings. Native plants are perfectly suited to coexist with native bug populations.
Finally, cover the soil with organic mulch or cover crops, which protect beneficial insects from climate extremes, and provide bugs with a source of water such as birdbaths or other shallow, gravel-filled dishes. (Make sure to change water often to avoid mosquitoes.)
When it comes to naturally fending off garden pests, observing your garden closely is your most important task. Learn to check your garden often, carefully inspecting plant stems and the undersides of leaves for eggs and larvae, and learn which bugs—good and bad—are likely to call your garden home.
Set up a bench and keep a watchful eye on the activity in your garden. Visit at different times of day, and simply observe the patterns of the insects coming to visit. Because there are so many more beneficial insects than harmful ones, it helps to try to identify which bad bugs are in your area. Notice foliage that is eaten or scarred. Sometimes when the insects are not evident, the type of damage to the plant can help you identify the type of insect that may be causing it. Make it a habit to check the underside of the leaves of plants that are susceptible to insects. If you see egg clusters, try to identify them; pest eggs will quickly hatch into hungry larvae that can strip the leaves and cut off nutrition to the plant. Sometimes, the best natural solution is to put on your garden gloves and squish the eggs before they have a chance to hatch.
We don’t need pesticides on our flowers and food crops. We can bring friendly insects into our gardens, and avoid the dangers and expense of pesticides. Further, pesticides will wipe out all of the insects in your gardens; even the good ones. They compromise the pollinators we need in order for our food crops to be successful.
It’s all about better, safer choices, people. Now, get out there and grow something!