Please Bug Me

by Rosie Bishop -

Insects and their shy cousins don’t advertise. If they did, we would likely think of “beneficial” and “wasps” as words we cherish together. We would love to see critters scurrying or wiggling in a scoop of soil. We would thank tiny flea-sized creatures for reliable assistance. We would use mulch to offer refuge to many humble workers.

Pesticides are big business and have shaped the thinking of generations. It is the sad fact for gardeners that we hear versions of “If you see a bug, kill it.” For many, the amazing wonders of Nature to nurture healthy crops at no cost to the wallet or the environment is lost. It was such a wonderful revelation to me late in life to learn that helpful critters can be attracted just by growing certain perennials or by appreciating diversity.

The natural diversity and balance of a garden’s inhabitants cannot be attained in a monoculture. A variety of plants will provide a variety of creatures, maintaining balance and preventing any from taking over. Vast stretches of corn or beans or grass will not attract the array of differing creatures that benefit the garden–without any chemical intervention. Picture any woods, prairie or natural area and a varied array of plants can be found, thus a variety of helpful insects. Humans often upset Nature’s balance. DIVERSITY AND BALANCE are two words to take seriously for attracting beneficials.

In the book, Good Bugs for the Garden by Allison Mia Starcher, it is easy to see that the tiniest critters can be the most helpful. One of my favorite tiny bugs, the braconid wasp, a parasitic wasp, is smaller than my little fingernail but puts on a striking show. The female lays her eggs on a large, damaging (but beautiful) critter, the tomato hornworm. Her young attach cocoons to the worm’s body like bits of rice, drawing life from the hornworm, thus saving the juicy tomatoes. A tiny moth–a Super Critter to celebrate!

Tiny describes the larvae of the ladybug. It is so easy for people to brush off little bugs and thus to destroy the helpers who would be partners. Mulch is a provision we see in Nature that is often disregarded by neatness. Many care more about appearance than the health of gardens. Often that is because of the powerful advertising at work. A “Poison-Perfect Yard” might be the way bugs would advertise! In Nature, plant matter falls to the ground and decays, inviting insects to hide their eggs or find protection while the mulch feeds the soil, warms in winter and cools in summer.

My personal love for butterflies provides a steady diet of insect awe. It is a thrill to watch a pinhead dot on a leaf, the egg,  become a colorful caterpillar and in a matter of days fly off to grace the flowers and to pollinate as well. Our kids deserve to experience the magical drama offered by beneficial insects. We can advertise their powerful qualities!

Rosie is a retired school teacher who loves being bugged to talk about beneficial insects.