Rose and I were planting peas last week when she suddenly stopped and said, “Mama look!” Beside her on a tulip sat three scary-looking bugs with spines on their backs.
My first instinct was to squash immediately, but sometimes the scariest-looking bugs are garden heroes. So I resisted the urge, grabbed Good Bug, Bad Bug and flipped quickly through the pages. There on the ladybug page was a picture of the ladybug larva.
These larva are ferocious… at least if you’re an aphid, mealybug, or other garden pest.
Part of me really likes the sanitariness of pesticides. Just spray and kill all the bugs. Good as well as bad. Then you don’t have to worry whether that bug you see is eating your tomatoes or eating the bugs that want your tomatoes. Then you don’t have to risk seeing a spider busily at work in your garden or risk having a ladybug larva land on your arm.
Doesn’t that sound a bit appealing?
The problem is it would defeat one of my main purposes (and that of most home gardeners) of having a garden: growing fresh healthy food that isn’t covered in pesticide residue. Plus, it completely messes with the beautiful and intricate natural controls that God created to help our gardens.
As I’ve been reading about the bugs that make their homes in our gardens and the beautiful flowers and herbs we can plant to attract the good bugs and scare away the bad, I’ve been struck once again with wonder at God’s amazing creation.
For example, the beneficial hover fly won’t lay eggs on a non-infested plant. If the plant is infested, how many eggs a hover fly lays depends on the pest population. Isn’t that amazing? Beneficial bugs even communicate with one another by leaving a chemical mark on pests that have already been dealt with! (from Good Bug, Bad Bug)
One of my gardening goals is to create an environment that fosters all the beautiful (and ferocious) beneficial bugs.
I still have lots and lots to learn, but here are the steps I’m taking this year.
Learn to distinguish between good and bad bugs:
If spending an hour playing with bugs wasn’t exactly your idea of fun as a kid (it sure wasn’t mine) then this can be a bit more of a challenge, but it’s proved to be quite exciting. When the kids or I come across a new bug, we’ll look it up in Good Bug, Bad Bug or The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control (two new favorites!) before we decide whether to encourage its presence or squash on sight from now on.
Grow flowers and herbs that attract good and discourage bad bugs:
Marigolds, of course, are renowned for their ability to deter aphids and other bugs from around your vegetables (plus marigold roots clear the ground of microscopic nematodes that can reek havoc and the good effect lingers for up to three years!)
There are so many other amazing flowers and herbs to plant too, like nasturtium which “trap” bad bugs (and are edible), pungent herbs whose scent both confuses and deters bad bugs, and a vast variety of flowering plants that provide food and shelter for the good bugs if the pest population drops.
Create an environment that fosters good garden creatures:
Previous owners of our home planted lilirope as a border around the little front gardens. The lilirope filled out into a big bushy mess that I really don’t like. I started clearing it away to replace with a rock border when I noticed beautiful blue-streaked skinks darting into the lilirope for cover. I was clearing away the home of the cute little lizards who feed on snails, slugs, grasshoppers, roaches and even small mice.
Before I clear away the other half of the lilirope, I want to be sure the skinks have another home by planting perennials they can overwinter in and hide from predators.
Many herbicides for treating weeds are toxic to lizards, frogs, and other small garden guests. Avoid using them if possible or seek a child and “pet”-safe natural alternative.
What are your favorite ways to make your garden a haven for good bugs?
[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]