Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beneficial Insects in The Garden - you can't ring the dinner bell if there is no food on the table!

Learn who are the good guys and the bad guys — and sometimes they are both! AND, if you are gardening with edibles — no chemicals! The final point of growing your own produce and herbs for the table (besides their beauty, general safety and non-toxicity for family and pets) is to control contaminants, so no chemicals.

First, if you can, leave some of the pests alone, so they will attract the beneficial insects. In a typical natural (no chemical) garden there may be a little damage to plants before the beneficial bugs arrive (you can't ring the dinner bell if there is no food on the table!).

When discussing beneficial insects, it is important to note that predatory beneficial insects can bite you. The larvae especially have jaws designed for catching prey and can look downright scary. Leave them alone to do their job. While photographing our gardens we have been delighted with opportunities to get portraits of many of these critters, plus other of the non- human "neighbors" who either inhabit our gardens or are merely passing through. We encourage some to stay and others to continue passing on through!

Caterpillars / Grubs — the larvae stage of many beloved garden visitors, can also chomp their way through some of your garden. Before you reach for the shovel to knock them on the head, consider that all the butterfly caterpillars need something to eat when they first hatch out of their egg and before they cocoon to butterfly adulthood.

The caterpillar of the remarkable sphinx moth is the tomato hornworm, so dreaded by many gardeners. In the desert the sphinx moth is a pollinator of the night blooming cactus. Learn the difference between truly destructive larvae (grape leaf skeletonizers) and the caterpillars of the swallowtail and other much-loved butterflies. Consider setting aside a small part of the garden for these critters, moving caterpillars to that location, and save your pest control energy for the really problematic ones.

A great site for identifying insects in the garden is one started by a couple of professors — this site is a labor of love for them, so be especially courteous in emailing them with questions, and be appreciative.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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