When you’re working in an organic farm or garden, it’s easy to get frustrated with pests that seem to threaten your crops from all directions. But believe it or not, very few insects actually cause crop damage. And fortunately, there are lots of beneficial birds and insects that are natural predators of those pesky bugs. Organic farming experts refer to the process of attracting beneficial animals as an “integrated pest management strategy.” However, you can easily and cheaply simplify the process with your own home garden this season.
Although the most common types of insects that you want hanging around your garden are bees and ladybugs, soldier beetles, syrphid flies, and ichneumon wasps are also beneficial. Bees pollinate plants from the same origins and facilitate fruit production in a variety of plants. You can attract bees to your garden by planting one of several companion plants like the bee balm, pineapple sage, Queen Anne’s lace and parsley. By making your garden as diverse as possible, you’ll secure different kinds of nectar and pollen that will attract an array of insects. Ladybugs and Green Lacewings tend to eat lots of aphids and mites that feed on your crops, so incorporating plants in the Apiaceae and Asteraceae families into your garden keep ladybugs coming back for more. Unless you live in fire ant territory, leave the ants in your garden alone. In return, they’ll harvest and disperse seeds, thereby extending the lifespan of your crops.
Not only are birds great for watching with binoculars from your kitchen window, but they also love to eat many types of insects that can destroy your precious garden. To attract more birds to your garden, plant some trees with edible fruit. You can easily lure them in with bird feeders, bird baths, and birdhouses with a few inexpensive investments. You can also use ground covers instead of turf and allow fallen leaves to remain in place to keep birds where you want them.
Initially, the hardest part is figuring out which are the good bugs and which are the bad ones. If you’re looking to become an expert in insect motivation, check out Allison Mia Starcher’s illustrated book, Good Bugs for Your Garden. Take a quick look at Arbico Organic’s list of beneficial insects to get a better idea what to look for as well. If you’d rather get the Cliff’s Notes, simply pay attention to what insects are doing on your plants to see if they are eating them or defending them. Take close-up photos of the insects you see and jot down a short description of its activity so you can Google (and hopefully identify) them later. But more often than not, birds and insects are the organic farmer’s best friends.