RTOR | 8 Insects That are Beneficial for Your Garden
Hello, dear readers! I have always wanted to say that. Can you believe that I have been blogging nonstop, successfully, without hesitation for a YEAR?! Whaaaat! I mean, I can't believe it. I struggled for a long time. A long, long time. Granted, I was in middle school when I first became inspired to write a blog. I was wearing a Hollister t-shirt, heavy eyeliner, and had stick straight hair with all of the flat iron flyaways sticking out. My mom, you know her as Jill, had just bought me my first subscription to Teen Vogue magazine, and there within its pages was a feature on Jane Aldridge. Do you know her? She writes the blog Sea of Shoes, and at the time she was 16 writing a blog full time while attending high school. I thought she was amazing! I mean, if she could do it, I could too, right? So, twelve or thirteen-year-old me took my ten dollars and wandered on down to the St. Vincent's to try and thrift some clothes. I figured that if I couldn't afford high fashion, then maybe someone like me would want to know how to remake vintage fashion. It still sounds like a good concept to me, though I am sure there are others who have already done it - long gone by now!
Then, I had no idea how to use strategy or even what to write about. Who cared about what a thirteen-year-old did everyday? My writing was laughable. I am sure what I write today will be laughable to me years from now. I sometimes still wonder who cares what I write about today, at 21, and still learning. But now I have a focus. I know what I like, and I think that I sometimes know myself a little too well, if you know what I mean. All that to say... nine years later, one year of strict writing with a purpose, I now write about BUGS.
Who woulda thunk it.
Not I! Not I. Because bugs are kind of... meh? in my book. But they're also awesome because they help plants. Did you know? Not all insects are bad for your garden, though if you do grow plants, you will come across many a pest that will destroy your lovelies. Let's talk about the good ones! The kind that benefit your plants and make things pretty, the kind that you should be careful not to kill. We need those! I feel like writing about beneficial bugs is another way for me to remind myself that pesticides are just not good. Already, we've talked about possibly spraying some weeds in our garden or spraying for bugs, and there is just this definitive and resounding no within me when it comes to that. That's the whole point of this! And while organic gardening can be incredibly difficult, I don't want to risk the environment or our health by using any weird chemicals on our food. Because pesticides may kill off the bugs you don't want in your garden, but they also kill off the ones that you do. I am going to start doing more work and research into looking at what kinds of natural things I can use to deter the bad bugs; hopefully I can report back soon with more info! So far, not a whole lot of insect action happening in our garden this week, but the temps have been pretty chilly!
Before we begin, I did find these images on Pinterest. They are not mine. If I could take photos of all of these insects, I totally would, but it may take me over a year to collect the images and report this post back to you. So, I have linked the images back to their original sources if you care to take a look. Just wanted to put that out there.
Red Lady Bug
The Red Lady Bug! In the Midwest, we are notorious for having a TON of those little orange nasty in disguise beetles. The fakers. They're called Asian Lady Beetles and infest our home (even when we lived in Illinois) in the winters. In the fall, it looks like some sci-fi movie. They like to live in the corners of rooms for whatever reason. Maybe it's warmer up there. All I know is that I am constantly vacuuming those suckers up. And they stink. Anyway, not those, but the Red Lady Bug or Lady Bird or Lady Beetle. We like those! They love to snack on soft-bodied pests like aphids who will eat your plants. The larvae of the Red Lady Bug are especially great for the garden, as they will eat a majority of the pests. Plus they're really cute!
Green lacewings are great for pest control in the garden! They are far less known but just as helpful, as they are somewhat dangerous predators for other smaller bugs and bug larvae. These insects have huge wings that are either green or brown, and there are over 2000 different types. They like to eat caterpillars, moths, whiteflies, aphids, and sometimes mites as well. They also feed on insect eggs, plant nectar, pollen, and honeydew. The lacewing generally appears in late spring and will begin laying eggs on the underside of leaves; the eggs hang from spindles that look a bit like thread.
These insects look just like bees! Their black and yellow striped abdomen reflect that of the honeybee, which you of course know is incredibly beneficial for your plants. These flies actually help to pollinate flowers as well, but their larvae end up eating really small insects that will eat your plants, like aphids. The larvae are so tiny that they crawl into itty bitty spaces and feed on these bugs. Good for you - not for the aphids! There are some companion plants that attract flower flies, otherwise known as hoverflies, and can be a great way to get them into the garden! Plant yarrow, chamomile, buckwheat, sweet alyssum, and parsley for these little guys.
It was not too long ago that I was working in the garden and spotted an iridescent dragonfly hovering over my strawberry plants. It was a moment where I had to stop and watch in fascination, lasting only for a few seconds and ending before I could catch a breath. Why is it that butterflies and dragonflies catch our attention so much more easily than any other bug? They are quite magnificent, I must say! Dragonflies are great for your garden, as they have many eyes covering their entire heads that can spot small insect pests such as mosquitoes! We have a creek near our home, which is a great attractor of dragonflies as they like to raise their larvae near bodies of water. If you have a pond nearby or a creek, then you may seem some dragonflies around!
Is it really any surprise that the honeybee is on this list? You all know that my love for bees runs deep! If you can, check out my book review on Xerces Society's book, 100 Plants to Feed the Bees! Really great info on which flowers to plant to attract pollinators, native bees being the more important focus! Bees of all shapes and sizes can help benefit the plants in your garden, as they feed on the pollen and nectar produced and help to pollinate the other plants around them.
These bugs are really weird, but is an incredible predator towards mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and caterpillars. They will disguise themselves and lie in wait for their prey, attacking viciously and quickly. They eat the tissues of other insects. I learned that these particular bugs have individual palettes. They each have their own preferences for the type of food that they like and will exclusively hunt for a particular type of meal. Weird!! They are susceptible to biting people and can actually make you sick, so be aware if you see one around, especially if you have kiddos helping in the garden. They do control a majority of the bug population, so it's not necessary to rid them, just don't handle them!
This bug is actually quite interesting! Related to the dragonfly, it was around during prehistoric times and were actually gigantic. There are many fossils found of these, larger than birds of prey! The damselfly is a delicate insect that has trouble flying with its large, elongated body and lacey wings. They are carnivores that prey upon mosquito larvae, flies, freshwater organisms, and other small insects. They help to, like all other insects on this list, to control the population of harmful insects.
These are some of the first bugs to appear on your plants in spring. They are small and can only be seen on careful examination, but can really help by eating basically any and all tiny, invasive insects in your garden. They love to eat aphids, spider mites, and thrips. In fact, adult pirate bugs eat over 20 thrip larvae a day! Pirate bugs love flowers and herbs. Plant marigolds, cosmos, alfalfa, spearmint, and fennel to bring these beneficial bugs into your life!
And there you have it! More knowledge for your brain about gardening and bugs and protecting the environment. Everything has a purpose in the garden! Be kind to those bugs that help you out. You can't pay for that kind of hard work! (;
P.S. What do you think about me shortening our series name Returning to Our Roots? I just thought it might be too long for this post, but I kind of like it! Maybe not all of the time. Weird ramblings.