Attracting beneficial insects

Attracting beneficial insects

Beneficial predatory insects are an important element of an organic pest control strategy. Unless you have a serious problems, if they are living in your garden they will help to control pests without you having to do anything. While some insects, like ladybugs, can be purchased and released in your garden, you don’t really have to work at attracting beneficial insects, just provide the simple things they need and they will come.

Food
One of their requirements is a source of food, which mainly means lots of small nectar and pollen producing flowers (many beneficial insects are very small and have difficulty feeding from larger flowers). Plants of the carrot (Apiaceae), daisy (Asteraceae) and mint (Lamiaceae) families are all particularly good. This is why the herb garden is always alive with insects and is another good reason for planting many of these plants. Many weeds are good sources of food too. Highly bred garden cultivars aren’t very useful because they are often sterile and don’t produce much nectar or pollen.

Habitat
The other important need is for a diversity of undisturbed habitat, which gives them a place of refuge from predators and a suitable place to survive the winter (they won’t survive in the ever changing annual vegetable garden, which is often bare in winter). This can be a simple border, with a diversity of perennials and shrubs to give them a place to live.

Don’t feed the birds

Don’t feed the birds

There are few things more frustrating than preparing, planting and pampering a bed of peas or beans and then discovering that the newly germinated seedlings have all been wiped out by birds.

In most places birds are only a significant problem in spring when they seem to relish the abundant succulent green seedlings, but in my garden quail can be a problem anytime. In winter they go for the Brassicas, in summer they like any succulent greens, and in fall they eat newly sown, or emerging, cover crops. I’ve learned the hard way if I leave a seedbed unprotected I am pretty much wasting my time, as I will be lucky to harvest anything from it.

Tips on how to protect your plants:

Easy: The easiest method to keep birds away is to use scare tactics such as flashing tape, hanging old CDs, scarecrows, and predator balloons. The problem with these is that birds will eventually get used to them and start to ignore them, though they may work long enough for your planting to grow out of its most vulnerable stage.

Functional: The usual solution to serious bird predation is plastic netting. This is awkward to handle and put up (it’s an extra step after planting that you don’t need), and somewhat hazardous to wildlife (I have released several tangled snakes) but in these circumstances it is a necessary evil. I usually support the netting on hoops made from lengths of discarded ½” polyethylene irrigation pipe, weighted down at the edges with wood or soil. It’s not particularly elegant, but its quick and it works.

Extreme: In the most extreme cases you might decide to cage the whole garden (especially if you are also plagued by rabbits, deer, squirrels, or raccoons). The simplest and cheapest way to do this is to put an 8 foot tall chicken wire fence around the garden and make a roof out of plastic bird netting.