Ah, organic gardening: juicy tomatoes, sweet strawberries and crisp kale — it’s perfection, right? It can be, especially with the help of beneficial insects to do some of your dirty work for you. Organic gardening, also known as gardening without the use of toxic chemicals, can bring a host of pests such as aphids, white flies and tomato hornworms. These pest populations can seem daunting and tempt you to spray harmful chemicals in your beautiful garden. But wait, before you do that, let’s talk about natural ways to manage damaging insects in your garden.
Ladybugs. Enter beneficial insects like ladybugs (or Lady Beetles) and Praying Mantis. These garden friends feast on the damaging pest populations while leaving your garden veggies alone and thriving for your harvest, not theirs. One ladybug can consume 5,000 aphids over their lifetime! As an adult, they will lay a cluster of yellow eggs on leaves and stems to hatch future generations of aphid eaters, who will hopefully take up residence in your garden long term. Not to mention, I love finding ladybugs around our farm!
Praying Mantises will eat flies, beetles, aphids, moths and more, they aren't picky. They can grow to up 6 inches long and make a great addition to your garden. Your local nursery most likely will stock these insects in the spring as gardeners begin their seasonal gardens. Praying Mantis is the only insect that has a head that is able to rotate a full 180 degrees, which helps them seek out their prey from all angles. The female praying mantis will spin an egg case in the fall to overwinter her eggs, it looks similar to a dried fig. In spring, warm weather brings the hatching of 100 to 200 newborn praying mantises, known as nymphs. It’s a fascinating thing to watch hundreds of ladybugs being released, or witnessing a praying mantis egg case hatch up to 200 nymphs at one time. If you can’t find these beneficials at your local nursery, many online companies will ship directly to you.
And don’t forget the Mason Bees! Mason bees are solitary bees that live in small holes in trees or posts. They will lay eggs in these holes and then plug them up with mud until hatching. Once your ‘colony’ has laid their eggs and done their job pollinating in your garden, you can harvest the cocoons for the following season. If stored in a cold environment, such as your refrigerator, they will hibernate until they are exposed to warm weather, which wakes them up. They do not produce honey, but they are friendly and do not sting. Mason bees can also boost your yield of crops as one mason bee can pollinate what would take 100 honey bees to do...they are super pollinators! Mason bees can also be ordered online during the winter and spring months.
Make your garden beneficial insect friendly by planting flowers and building or buying them a “bug hotel”. Things like hollow bamboo or tubes, stacked bark and logs with drilled holes all make a welcoming spot for all of those lady bugs, praying mantises and mason bees to take up residence and start managing your pest control organically.
Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale pastured meat farmer in 2015. Since then, she has run her Californian Flicker Farm to accommodate Juliana pigs, sell goat’s milk soap and lotions, and raise all types of free-range poultry. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.