What would happen if you went to your local grocery store the shelves were empty? How long would you continue to go back looking for food? Once, twice, three times or would you go back at all? The same things holds true in the garden, if you’re constantly ridding your garden of “bad” insects, the good insects will never show up because the grocery store shelves will be empty. There will is no food to sustain them and they will move on to greener pastures.
I refuse to classify insects as good, bad, pest, beneficial, etc. In my mind, they’re all beneficial because each one plays an important role in the garden. Even the insects most people classify as “pests” provide valuable food for birds as the insects we typically classify as “beneficial”. Sure some insects are a great annoyance (mosquitoes) and sometimes they decimate our crops leaving our plates bare. If we want to build a balanced ecosystem in gardens, we must learn to sit back and let nature work.
Here at Chiot’s Run, I have noticed the benefits of not stepping in. Each year there is a greater variety of insects in the garden. Those labeled as pests are starting to become less pestiferous because the predatory insect population is growing. The less I step in, the more nature can balance itself out.
Here’s a great example. Last Summer I noticed asparagus beetles on my asparagus. I could easily have picked them off, put them in soapy water and “dealt” with the problem myself “organically”. Or I could let nature run it’s course and hopefully attract the parasitic insects that feed on these “baddies”. I left nature to it’s own devices and closely monitoring the asparagus to see what happened. In a few weeks, the population of beetles exploded, they seemed to be everywhere. “Infestation” would have been the correct description for my asparagus patch.
Not longer after the sudden increase in beetle population, I noticed a wide variety of other insects hovering about the patch: flies, yellow jackets, shield bugs, thread wasted wasps, tiny green wasps, ladybugs and a few others. I even spotted a bird or two flitting about.
After doing some research, I found a great article detailing the life cycle of the asparagus beetle at the University of Minnesota University and it stated:
A tiny (less than 1/8-inch) metallic green wasp, Tetrastichus asparagi, parasitizes asparagus beetle eggs (Fig. 6). You may notice these wasps when working in your garden. They can sometimes provide very effective control, parasitizing up to 70% of the eggs. Lady beetle larvae and other predators may also be active, and will consume both eggs and larvae. Most insecticides, however, will also kill beneficial predators and parasites.
I was happy to see the warning about insecticide killing both beneficial and pestiferous insects!
When you notice insects you don’t want in the garden, instead of hand-picking or spraying, add a few plants that will attract the insects you need to control them. Herbs are especially beneficial for this. Oregano, dill, fennel, catmint and most herbs will attract a wide variety of those insects we like to classify as “beneficial” to our gardens. What can we do to increase the population of those insects we really want?
In nature there is always an ebb and flow. The population of one species will boom while their predators slowly increase in numbers. Patience is really the best pest control in the garden. The only time you should step in is if the natural predators will not control the problem. Generally that is not the case for insects but more more for rodents, deer, groundhogs and other pesky large garden creatures.
I love these two definitions of ORGANIC:
a : forming an integral element of a whole : fundamental
b : having systematic coordination of parts : organized
Too often in our current system, organic is not much different than conventional except they use different methods of controlling weeds and insects. What we really need to do is to become real organic or beyond organic. To see our gardens as a complex system and each thing as an integral part of a whole. You can’t remove one thing without affecting the system as a whole. The more we shift our minds toward enabling diversity and natural order and away from controlling our garden, the more beautiful and diverse our gardens will become. We can shift the time we used to spend dealing with insect to watching the intricacies of the natural web.
When I talk about this, people always ask “have you ever lost any crops entirely to pest?”. The answer is yes, but in subsequent years I noticed fewer and fewer of those insects and a higher population of those that prey on them. A year or two without a certain vegetable or fruit is worth having it on my plate for years to come. We need to realize that we are not gods in our garden, we are not in control, the more we try to control it the less power we have; we are simply there to nurture and learn.
What’s your biggest insect “pest” in the garden? What’s your favorite “beneficial” insect?Filed under Around the Garden | Comments (35)