beneficial insects, beneficial bugs, ladybugs, ladybirds, lacewings, braconid wasps

Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve already started seeds for this year’s garden, you likely have several different vegetable and herb seeds sprouting merrily. What a lot of people forget to do, however, is include a variety of flowers and herbs that will help attract beneficial insects as well.
There are a number of plant species that can draw specific insects to your space, so if you’ve had particular issues that you’d like to address without the use of harmful insecticides, read on!

Organic Pest Control

Braconid

Braconid Wasps

These creep me right the hell out so I’m going to write about them first to get them out of the way. Members of the Braconidae family, these parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the skin of caterpillars and beetle larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host’s internal organs until they reach maturity, at which point they bugger off.
Ew ew ew, but hey, they’ll kill the cabbage moth larvae eating your organic kale.

Which plants do they like?
These wasps love small-flowered flowers and herbs that produce a fair amount of nectar. Yarrow, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet alyssum are sure to coax them to your garden.

Lacewings

Lacewings

You’ve probably seen these delicate beauties clinging to your porch or window screen if a porch light has drawn them close. Their larvae look like alligators and are sometimes referred to as “aphid lions” because of how voraciously they devour the wee beasties. They also eat caterpillars, thrips, and whiteflies.

Which plants do they like?
Yarrow, caraway, angelica, cosmos, fennel, coreopsis, mallows, dill, tansy, sunflowers, and dandelions.

Ladybug.png

Ladybugs (aka Ladybirds)

Adorable and colourful, these happy-looking little beetles annihilate aphids, spider mites, and various other teensy soft-bodied critters. If you haven’t seen many in your area, you can usually buy them at your local garden centre.

Which plants do they like?
Butterfly weed, coriander, yarrow, dill, tansy, cinquefoil, fennel, vetch, buckwheat, calendula.

Insect-Water-Feeder.png

A Good Water Source

Remember that insects need water to wash down all those bad bugs they’ve been eating, so make sure they have a source of clean drinking water handy. If you have a pond or marshy area on your property, they should be okay, but for everyone else, it’s recommended that you make a couple of watering areas.

The easiest way is to pour a layer of pebbles, marbles, or decorative stones in the bottom of a ceramic planter pot, and keep enough water in it to **almost** cover the pebbles. This will give the insects safe places to land while they drink.
Remember, most of these happy bugs have wings, and if they don’t have an easy water source when they’re thirsty, they’ll fly elsewhere.

Please don’t use commercial pesticides!

If you need to use some kind of pesticide, please use methods that are low impact, natural, and/or biodegradable, rather than full of toxic chemicals. You can get repel slugs from the garden with copper strips, use neem for various mites, ants, and beetles, etc. There are many different options that won’t harm the beneficial bugs in your garden, nor seep into the soil to poison plant life.

DIY Beneficial Insect Hotel

By Catherine Winter

Many people gripe and moan about the insects they have to contend with, but not all bugs are equal when it comes to benefitting (or harming) your plants. Vital pollinators like bees and butterflies deserve our respect and appreciation, while aphid-eating ladybugs and mosquito-devouring dragonflies are powerful allies for organic pest control. By creating an insect “hotel” and setting it up near your food garden, you can provide a wonderful shelter for your local insect allies so they can keep working hard amongst your food plants.

This is a great weekend project to dive into during this nebulous time between winter and springtime. Snow’s still on the ground and we won’t be able to get seeds into the ground for a little while yet, but those of us who are champing at the bit to do garden-ish things can focus our energy on creating one of these in prep for the growing season ahead.

insect hotel, bug hotel, insect habitat, bug habitat, pollinators, beneficial insects

What You’ll Need:

  • A large, open wooden box
  • Rolled-up tubes of paper
  • Hollow reeds or bamboo, cut to fit the depth of your box
  • Large wood chips or strips of bark
  • Dry straw or small sticks
  • Solid wooden blocks with “bee holes” drilled into them, if desired. (Remember that different bee species have specific preferences for both their eggs, and shelter. Leafcutter bees like 1/4″ wide and 2 1/2 -4″ deep holes, while mason bees like theirs to be 6″ deep, 5/16″ wide. Don’t drill all the way through the block: bees need warmth, not drafts.)
  • Eco-friendly, natural glue*

*Note: If you’d prefer not to use any kind of glue, you can just arrange everything loosely and then secure thin-gauge chicken wire over the front of the box. This will keep all the sundry bits in place, and the insects will have no problem getting through the wire mesh.

insect-house

Instructions:

Decide how you’re going to arrange your hotel ahead of time by drawing some thumbnail sketches. If you’ve created a drilled bee box, glue that into place first: it’s a lot easier to work around that behemoth than to try to mash it in to fit later.

Once that’s done, glue items into place around it, ensuring that they’re held together quite firmly, but that there’s enough room for air to circulate. Using different materials means that a variety of species will be able to find nooks that are best suited to their needs.

Cultivating a relationship with the beneficial insects in your area is a vital aspect of sustainable permaculture: the goal is to encourage your land to function in the most harmonious, holistic manner possible, and insects are imperative for a healthy, self-regulating ecosystem. For example, parasitic wasps annihilate tomato hornworms, cabbage moth larvae, whiteflies, and many caterpillar species.

insect-castle

You’ll draw the most beneficial species to your garden by planting indigenous wildflowers in and around your space, as well as along the periphery. Although exotic plants are beautiful, local insects are most adapted to native flowers. For example, Queen Anne’s lace is indigenous to your area, plant that for parasitic wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.

Before you know it, you’ll have countless new visitors helping out with your vegetables and herbs, and those lucky critters will have a gorgeous villa to go home to after a hard day’s work.