The secret life of our garden protectors
If you’ve ever seen pictures of our garden or gardens we’ve planted, you’ll have noticed that there are lots of flowers and herbs mixed within the vegetables. This so-called ‘companion planting’ is a big part of our natural and organic gardening concept. Besides making vegetable beds look all pretty when interplanted with flowers and herbs, this beautification serves more important purposes: attracting and supporting wildlife. Attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects is the key to natural gardening. By growing flowers, we’re providing food sources for solitary bees, honeybees, bumblebees and even hummingbirds. On their way from flower to flower, they pollinate them and ensure the development of new seeds for another plant generation in the year to come.
Once we attract these helpers into our garden, they will also pollinate our food crops, like beans, peas, eggplants or peppers and therefore sustain our food supply. But there’s more helpful wildlife out there we should welcome to our gardens. Besides the big predators like toads and snakes there are smaller creatures that help us keep the harmful animals at bay: Parasitoid Wasps and Predatory Beetles. We invite them to our garden by growing various flowers as a food source for nectar and pollen, by providing shelter and very importantly by leaving our aphid and other pest populations alone. I know the last one is hard, but if there’s no food for them, why should these predators come in the first place? It’s a very secret life these insects live and their doing often happens unnoticed by us.
To protect and support this microcosmos, we need to learn more about it. Let’s have a look at the parasitoid wasps. Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs in or on caterpillars and larvae of other insects e.g., garden pests like the white cabbage butterfly or the cucumber beetle. Eventually the wasp eggs hatch and the emerging larvae start eating the larvae of the garden pest. It sounds cruel, but isn’t it great? It’s one of nature’s ways to keep everything in balance. Other insects like soldier bugs, lady bugs, assassin bugs, pirate bugs or lacewings feed on aphids, caterpillars and mites too and therefore protect our valuable garden crops. This natural pest control system ensures that no pests will damage our crops too badly; we only need to let nature do her thing.
The good bugs: 2 Black Swallowtail caterpillars on dill
There is absolutely no need for us humans to use artificial mechanisms like spraying with questionable substances that harm wildlife, water and in the end ourselves. All we need to do is to invite nature back into our gardens by providing food sources and shelter for all the natural garden helpers out there. Give it a bit of time for this natural balance to develop and then you can observe this garden magic with your own eyes.
This article got published in 'The Review' online on September 7 2022 on page 14. Find it here: The secret life of our garden protectors - The Review Newspaper