Get Hundreds of Free Workers AND an Abundant Harvest!
Want less pests in your garden? To help achieve balance between pests and predators, I’ve found that imitating natural ecosystems can be a useful pest management strategy to use.
Facilitating natural predator-pest relationships in your garden is a way to harness hundreds of free workers to help manage insect imbalances. An example is the ‘aphid banquet’ on the menu for this ladybird’s lunch!
How to Work with and Imitate Nature
Whilst ‘having a relationship’ with birds, lizards, frogs and insects may not be on your To Do List, seeking a ‘win-win’ outcome by working with these creatures in your garden can help you:
- Achieve a higher crop yield (by encouraging more Pollinators); and
- Minimise insect damage to your edibles (by creating an unwritten ‘Workplace Agreement’ of sorts with Pest Predators – one that offers the kind of job perks that are an incentive for them to get to work in your garden)!
I’ve learned the benefits of ’employing’ hundreds of workers in my garden. Even though I don’t know them all by name, they still turn up regularly for work, never ask for a raise, are reliable in undertaking their jobs and save me hours of hard labour. In this post, I’ll share with you what my end of the agreement entails and how you can negotiate a similar arrangement at your place.
“In trying to isolate an insect and deal with it separately out of relation to the ecosystem in which it lives, we work against nature, which in turn works against us in counter-productive results.” – John Jeavons, author
Imitate Nature by Creating a Balanced Ecosystem
In our home gardens, we tend to have a controlled environment where:
- The soil is often disturbed by digging, transplanting, uprooting and weeding.
- Vegetables and plants are grown in neat rows or beds.
- We often sow seeds and plants that are not native to the climate.
- We often have to deal with introduced pests and insects that can thrive, where they have little natural competition or predators.
There are no straight lines, rows of identical plants and rarely any major pest problems. Only plants that are native to the area grow there, fed by a healthy soil that has not been depleted – one that is fed by the ecosystem it is part of.
“…about 90% of the time, insects only attack unhealthy plants. Just as a healthy person who eats good food is less susceptible to disease, so are healthy plants on a good diet less susceptible to plant disease and pest attack. The insect is not the source of the problem, but rather an unhealthy soil is. The soil needs your energy, not the insect.” – John Jeavons
For example, in nature, there are a mix of naturally occurring species of plants in every ecosystem. Each with different soil and mineral needs, and various shapes and sizes. Often in layers, like in a forest, from the top canopy right down to the ground floor. This is easily applied by planting a variety of edibles of different heights and shapes.
David Holmgren, Co-Originator of the Permaculture concept said: “All organisms and species obtain a yield from their environment adequate to sustain them.” This is a Permaculture principle and model from nature we can apply.
So how can this help you to have less pests to deal with? You can change your pest management strategies for more abundant harvests and less work.
Lessons from Nature
David Holmgren (author, ‘Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability’) wisely advises to “Use and Value Diversity – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”
Another lesson we can draw from Permaculture involves not seeing the Problem, but the Solution.
So instead of focusing on our food being consumed by caterpillars or grasshoppers, we think instead about where the natural living control solution lies. More often than not, nature’s balance can be restored by increasing the ratio of predators to pests.
How to Have Less Pests and More Beneficial Predators
- Encourage Predator Insects to Manage Pests for You. Beneficial predators are amongst the best allies and visitors to woo into your garden. This army of pest patrollers will exterminate and maintain balance far better than we can. On one condition. So long as you keep your garden chemical free.
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- Here’s where this ‘Workplace Agreement’ comes in! When you understand what these hard working ’employees’ (insects, birds, frogs and lizards) are looking for in their ‘place of employment’ (your garden), you can tailor an attractive package (job perks) that will ensure they are fully employed for their lifetime (food source).
- All you have to do in return is organise suitable accommodation, regular drinks and the occasional feed. Oh, and don’t forget OH&S (a safe working environment with no chemicals). I reckon it’s a bargain arrangement!
Meet a Few Beneficial Insects
Praying mantids: Insects such as praying mantids are fearless carnivorous hunters and will delightedly feast on grasshoppers, crickets, moths, flies and larger sap sucking insects saving you the trouble of catching them.
How to Make a Praying Mantis Habitat Video – powered by ehow
Hoverflies: Feed on flower nectar and will raise young (larvae) that have voracious appetites for a wide range of pests including aphids, thrips and other plant sucking insects. Yummy!
“In order to have beneficial insects in your food-producing area, you must provide food for them – which may be some of the harmful insects! If there are no harmful insects … then there will be few, if any, beneficial insects to act as friendly guardians … the need for both kinds of insects for the most healthy garden – is symbolic of nature’s balances.” – John Jeavons
Damselflies: Much like their cousins the Dragonflies, they eat vast quantities of insects on the fly. Damselflies can consume their body weight in food in just half an hour – no mean feat! They are particularly fond of (caterpillar laying) moths and sap sucking aphids. Yay!
Other beneficial insects you should welcome include spiders, assassin bugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps.
How to Attract Nectar Feeding Pollinators
We often focus on the ‘fruits’ of our labours in an edible garden, thinking about the harvest – the end result we can eat. However, there are a host of other beneficial pollinating insects who play a role in increasing our harvest considerably, with a little encouragement.
“I think about pollination and harvests this way: No flowers = no food = no pollinators = NO CROPS!” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener
Flowers for Pollinators
- Provide them with a variety of flowering herbs and flowers. This will give beneficial insects a source of food and in return, they’ll help increase your yield with free pollination services.
- Using this technique can increase your harvest (by saving the seeds for future crops) and maximise the pollination of the food crops you are currently growing.
- Because the majority of these insects are so tiny, they need to feed from small open shallow flowers. These are better than long deep flowers where they can drown in the nectar.
Provide ‘Bed & Breakfast’
Plant a variety of perennials, annuals and shrubs in your garden. These will help provide sheltered spots where beneficial insects and predators (like birds, lizards and frogs) can hide in bad weather. They will be safeguarded against their own predators. You can encourage a healthy balance and increase your harvest by ensuring you include:
- Plant diversity = food (nectar, pollen, prey insects, berries and seeds for birds). If a bird stops by to feed on seeds, they may well hang around for the insects too.
- Shelter (variety of plants and mulch) – these will also provide nesting materials for birds.
- Water (e.g. a fountain or large terracotta plant saucer) with 2-5cm of water in the bottom. Fill up with a few flat rocks/pebbles that rise above the surface for beneficials to land on.
- A bird perch.
Encourage these beneficial insects and garden helpers to take up residence at your place. Simply avoid chemicals and grow flowering species.
Insectary Garden Flowers & Plants to Attract Beneficials
Here are a few to get started: Basil, Chervil, Coriander (cilantro), Dill, Caraway, Echinacea (coneflowers), Fennel, Coreopsis, Sunflowers, Lovage, Borage, Feverfew, Millet, Sweet Alyssum, Parsley, Calendula, Cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, Yarrow, Black-eyed Susan and Tansy or learn more about beneficial herbs you can grow. I’d also encourage you to plant some natives to your area.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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