Many gardeners cringe at the sight of insects in their gardens, but on lots of occasions, this is a huge mistake. There are numerous insects that benefit our crops as opposed to devastate them. Some are predatory, hunting down other bugs to eat them. Others use pollen to create food, dancing from flower to flower without harming plants, and actually pollinating them so that we can get our tomatoes and squashes and apples and almonds and dozens of other tasty treats.
In other words, that initial appalling reaction that happens when we spot a six-legged creature on the leaf of our cucumber vine needs to change. Instead, we should start considering whether this insect is a friend or an adversary to our food production. Also, we need to realize that both are required for a healthy ecosystem, which ultimately will translate into more nutrient-dense food grown more easily.
With this in mind, let’s meet some of our best allies in the garden.
Source: Jojo Cruzado/Flickr
Great Things Bugs Do
Firstly, though, it’s important to recognize that bugs can do wonderful things. As we’ve already established, predatory insects will eat many of the herbivorous insects that compete with us for our fruits and veggies. Other insects pollinate, and about three-quarters of our flowers and vegetables rely on these bugs to do this task. Without insects to do this, we would have a much less diverse plant-based smorgasbord from which to choose. An entire team of insects helps us with compost production, and that helps us grow healthy crops.
Source: Pedro Szekely/Flickr
8 Insects That Are Beneficial in the Garden
So as not to get overly repetitive, today’s list of insect allies in the garden will first reference another list published by One Green Planet about a year ago. This list included eight common garden dwellers that should be a welcome sight. Rather than delving into each of these individually, readers should peruse that article to learn about:
- Green Lacewings
- Praying Mantids
- Ladybugs (Lady Beetles)
- Assassin Bugs
- Ground Beetles
- Black Soldier Flies
These insects are frontline fighters on behalf of our summer gardens, and without them, we would certainly suffer significant losses.
5 More Insects for the Cause
Now, here are some more friends we’d be fortunate to see.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Aphids are one of the great enemies of a healthy vegetable harvest, and aphid midges consume about 60 different species of aphids. They are said to outperform ladybugs and lacewings in gobbling up these pests. Aphid midges are miniscule flies (less than an eighth of an inch) with long legs and antennas that curl back over their heads. Their larvae also consume insects, so that’s double-duty. They are so effective that pupa can be order to introduce them to the garden.
Minute Pirate Bug
The minute pirate bug is another tiny insect (also only about an eighth of inch), but they have the reputation for packing a wallop of a bite. They feed on all sorts of pests: aphids, spider mites, corn earworms and more. They have a sort of ovular triangle shape with black and white marks. The one downside to minute pirate bugs is they will sometimes sample humans towards the end of the growing season.
Source: Katja Schulz/Flickr
There are over 2000 species of braconid wasps. They do not sting, so they are no worry for humans. However, caterpillars beware! Braconids like to lay their eggs inside or on hosts like cabbage worms, hornworms, aphids, and leaf miners. When the eggs hatch into larvae, the maggot-like creatures feed on the host. As adults, braconid wasps are pollinators, particularly for small-flowering plants like chamomile, buckwheat, feverfew and catnip.
Source: Field Crop News
Spined Soldier Bug
Poor spined soldier bugs have gotten a bad reputation because they look a lot like “stink bugs”. But, they can most easily be distinguished from those smelly insects by their spiky shoulders: Stink bugs have a more rounded look at the shoulder, as well as a distinctive black and white pattern at the edge of their backs and white bands on their antennae. Spined soldier bugs have spiky shoulders. Spined shoulder — oops, soldier — bugs will feed on hairless caterpillars.
Source: Katja Schulz/Flickr
Adding to our fleet of insect predators (a useful thing for vegans who don’t kill bugs), damsel bugs are gluttonous eaters, but they don’t feed on our plants. Instead, they devour thrips, leafhoppers, aphids, and small caterpillars that do like to eat the plants. Damsel bugs are attracted to ornamental grasses, and there are several species covering most of North America.
Working with Nature
Attracting these beneficial insects and fostering a relationship with them is how we quickly ween ourselves off of pesticides and the agrochemicals that we’ve become dependent on. When we douse everything in poison, no one really benefits: Our predatory friends die, and we get sick. Instead, we can accept that some pests are necessary to feed the predators we want to have around. We can also work with different plants that help to repel pests.
In the end, its biodiversity that will provide resilience within our food systems, not constantly medicating them with chemical solutions.
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