Beneficial Bugs in the Veggie Patch

The typical approach to insects in the garden - that is, mass destruction - is perhaps borne out of our ignorance. Most of us know nothing about the creatures that roam our veggie patches - what are they? how long do they live? what do they want?! why don’t they leave us alone!?? - and so we are often scared of them all. For as long as we’ve been gardening there has always been an unnerving feeling in the air when discussing the topic. So much so, that most see all insects - of course, the bee being the one exception - as our enemy.

But every animal and insect has its place in a finely balanced eco-system. For example, what would our oceans (and the majestic whale) be without algae to provide oxygen and food? Yes, did you know that algae’s are primarily good for the ocean? It’s only a few bad types, that are exacerbated by us humans and our ways, that project an overarching impression that they are not good for us. Taking it back to our gardens, and the veggie patches, bugs are primarily good too. They are only misunderstood.

By encouraging a diversity of species into our growing spaces we not only can eradicate the needs for harmful sprays - that affect all life, including our own - but it means we have helpers making the process easier. We need to start repeating this mantra - not all insects are evil, not all insects are evil, not all insects are evil! In fact some are likely to become your best friends.

Beneficial insects pollinate, protect and breakdown organic matter in the patch, which makes the whole gardening experience less troublesome. Ladybirds are a top ally and have a rapacious appetite for sucking pests such as white fly, aphids and thrip. Spiders love so many things that we don’t, particularly those that fly and flutter. Birds, while they can make a mess of your mulch and take an errant peak now and again, will control caterpillars and slaters too. And it’s also worth
remembering that other insects help to pollinate our vegetables in need. While the honey bee is the no.1 transferrer of pollen, the other insects creeping and crawling amongst your flowers do the exact same job. So let’s look at some of our top allies and how to not only bring them into your garden, but also make them comfortable enough to stay.

Our Allies
Here’s our line up of the major predatory insects that we want in our garden and what we want them for. As well as attracting them naturally into the garden, you can purchase sexually mature bugs that can then be released amongst any infestations you may be suffering.

Ladybirds: known as the no.1 controller of aphids in the garden, and will also feed on whitefly and thrip. Typically when you notice an increase in these pests, the ladybird will naturally follow and begin feeding, however in their absence you can introduce them yourself. We bought some online and felt slightly uneasy as the 30 ladybirds and $1 a pop flew off in the open air. However within weeks as these adults began laying larvae, the aphid population came under control. Note: it’s the
larvae of the ladybirds that feed on the pests, the adults usually feed on nectar and other pollen.

Spiders: spiders really get a bad wrap, much like sharks, and we have cinema to thank for making this relationship uneasy. I spent my younger years tormented by the thought of hairy spiders climbing into my bed and I’m intent on giving my kids a different perspective on these garden allies, because spiders are a weapon in protecting our vegetable crops. They feed on aphids, leaf miners, spider mites, caterpillars, thrips, grasshoppers, and flies, to name a few.

Hoverflies: these are often mistaken for wasps - as they have a similar coloured and shaped body - and are beneficial insects that appear in large numbers during the warmer months. In a fruiting garden they are the second most important pollinator next to bees, but will also help to control aphids and scale. As with the ladybird, it’s the immature larvae (that appear like small maggots) that voraciously feed by their touch.

Wasps: there are a number of parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the larvae of moths and butterflies, and it’s the textbook example of a host-parasite relationship. When the wasps lay their eggs they also inject a virus called bracovirus that integrates into the caterpillars genome and suppresses their response systems. So the wasp grubs get to feed on the caterpillars alive, which
sounds a little brutal but nature is sometimes like that.
Luring them in

Companion Planting: Flowers and herbs play a pivotal role in luring beneficial insects. By splashing some colour and scent through the patch, not only do you add an interesting food source, but to your insect friends it’s like putting a red flag in front of a bull. Some plants, such as nasturtium, act as decoys, focusing unwanted attention to one place. Others, such as chives, have properties to
actively repel certain pests while attracting lady bugs. Parsley, dill and calendulas are also great ladybug attracting plants. Lovage - a plant similar in taste to celery and parsley - will also help bring in a lot of wanted attention, particularly small parasitic wasps that will then help to control caterpillars. Land cress can also be used to control caterpillars, as it is toxic to the species and the pest is attracted to feeding on it.

Bug Houses: A bug house is an all in one residential palace for bugs of different shapes and sizes. It is constructed using materials commonly found in the garden - pine cones and bamboo for example - where the goal is to create environments that suits all bug types. Some insects are easier to lure in to your bug house than others - spiders for example love the hollowed out ends of the bamboo - but by constructing a multi faceted house, you should provide homes for a multitude
of beneficial bugs and create a thriving eco-system.

Pheromone Lures: these are lures that contains pheromones and are used much in the same way we primitive humans use sweet smelling perfumes to attract each other. Unlike perfume that is used to attract the good humans, there are also lures that can be placed around your garden and will attract and then trap the bad bugs too. A favoured one is called the predalure, which is non-toxic and pesticide free, and will help to attract ladybirds and hoverflies.

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