Monday, February 10, 2014

Tammi Hartung: Managing Garden Pests with Beneficial Insects

Do you recognize the beneficial insects in your garden and distinguish them from the plant-loving varieties that harm your fruits, vegetables, and flowers? Tammi Hartung, author of The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener, explains how the presence of good bugs can minimize the impact of the bad, and offers planting strategies for attracting the right species to your garden plot.
Illustration by © Holly Ward Bimba
Today was a warm sunny day for wintertime and I was walking through the garden just to have a look-about. I noticed the web of a monkey face spider left from last summer still clinging to the post of our back porch. 

Beneficial insects and spiders are wonderful helpers in the garden landscape because they make small work of managing pest insects. It is well worth a bit of time to learn which insects are beneficial predators, like orb spiders, of which the monkey face spider is a member, and which are pest insects that can cause a great deal of damage to your vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Welcoming the beneficials into the garden can be really good, especially when those pesky aphids or flea beetles show up on your lettuces and broccoli.

Many folks know that lady beetles (aka ladybugs) eat pests like aphids, but there are other insects to welcome, like tachinid flies, which lay their eggs inside pest bugs like beetles and earwigs.  Spined soldier bugs eat large pests like caterpillars, as do praying mantises, which are large enough themselves to take on a grasshopper. There are even tiny wasps, so small that you need a magnifying glass to see them well, but they are fierce to white flies because they sting the white fly larvae and parasitize it.

Illustration by © Holly Ward Bimba
Spiders are good allies too, as they hunt and feed on all sorts of pest insects in the garden. Next time you see a spider and are tempted to squish it underfoot, think twice. If a spider in the garden is not a poisonous spider (and most are not) it is best to leave it be and let it help you keep those pest insects under control.

Illustration by © Holly Ward Bimba
You can encourage beneficial insects and spiders in the vegetable garden by inter-planting your food plants with aromatic herbs that will attract those predator insects. Mints are wonderful for attracting lacewings and ladybugs. Other fantastic herbs are anise hyssop and lemon balm. Chamomile, both German and Roman varieties, sage, and all the different kinds of thymes will be great for drawing those beneficial predator insects into your garden, too. As a bonus to these plants attracting the beneficial insects, you can also use the herbs in your cooking, and to make herbal tea or even herbal skin creams.

Illustration by © Holly Ward Bimba
I’ll leave you with a final thought to remember: vegetarian insects are pests because they eat plants and can cause a lot of damage to your food garden. The meat-eating insects and spiders are beneficial predator insects that will hunt those pests down and get rid of them for you. Another good thing about encouraging beneficial insects and spiders in your garden is that you will rarely be forced to use pesticides, even organic ones, as the predator insects will most likely take care of your pest management chores for you, leaving you time to harvest the bounty of green beans and strawberries. For my way of thinking, that is a much better use of my time than making war on the cabbage aphids. I’ll leave that work to the ladybugs!

If you would like some additional ideas, I hope you will check out my new book, The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener, or visit my blog at  Enjoy!

With Green Thoughts,

Tammi Hartung

Illustrations by © Holly Ward Bimba, from The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

A medical herbalist and certified organic grower, Tammi Hartung is the author of The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener and Homegrown Herbs. She and her husband operate Desert Canyon Farm in Colorado, where they grow more than 175 medicinal, rare, and native plants. For more ideas, visit Tammi’s blog, Desert Canyon Farm Green Thoughts

Read Tammi’s recent blog post on creating a wildlife-friendly hedgerow to protect your garden while attracting beneficial pollinators.

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The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener is available wherever books are sold. Pick up your copy today!

For a more in-depth look at this new title, visit Storey’s Fresh Picks page to download a free Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener Sampler, available through the month of February!

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