Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bees and Insects in the garden

In this posting I’ll write about the different bees and insects in my garden and how and why I attract them.
The three categories of insects in my garden that I am interested in are: pollinators, beneficial predators, and composters. I use food to lure these insects into my garden. The type of food each insect is attracted to is different in many cases and in some cases I use a particular plant to attract “bad” insects as food source for good insects.
Many of the fruits and vegetables that I grow are pollinated by insects, therefore the more of these insects that I can get into my garden the more my plants will be pollinated and the greater my harvests. Fruit and vegetable plants have different types and shapes of flowers. Flowers have been shaped by evolution to attract different insects so I theorize the larger the variety of pollinators the better the chances of those pollinators pollinating my diverse garden vegetables.
Since I’ve been looking, I have found two beekeepers (hives) within a ¼ mile of our house and I have seen many more in the 2 mile radius that honey bees are known to forage. In addition to European honey bees, we get many different types of bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, and birds. I am afflicted by allergies and am told that local honey is one of the best remedies. Since the European honeybees create honey, I’ll be building a hive soon and see if I can’t get a colony to move in.
In some of the earlier posting I’ve shown cover crops, such as buckwheat, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. These and other plants have been planted to help build the soil, but I have noticed that they attract insects. My overall favorite is buckwheat. It is a warm season plant which grows and flowers fast, about 5 weeks after planting. The flowers last for several weeks and seem to attract many different types of insects and lots of them.
Another successful plant to attract a variety of pollinators is carrots. Carrots are a biannual and therefore produce flowers (and seeds) in their second season. Each carrot left in the ground for a second season will produce multiple seed heads.
 Buckwheat and carrot flowers are both white which reflect UV light and help attract bees, but more traditional garden flowers do a good job too. Its interesting that some colors get more bees than others.Here are a few more flower shots showing feeding polinators.

I have found that larger groups of flowers attracts more insects than lone flowers. They also make a more visual impact when planted in groups. Here's is a picture of the zinnia bed its about 2 ft x 8 ft. There is a similar sized buckwheat bed further back in the picture with vegetables in between and on both ends
Beneficial Predators
I've had entire plants destroyed by pest insects such as aphids, spider mites, or cabbage moths. One year I had two 7 foot tall brandywine tomato plants almost destroyed by gobloads of aphids. It took three weeks of daily spraying with the garden hose and homemade garlic pepper spray to get the aphids under control.
One successful organic technique to manage pests is trap cropping. Trap cropping is accomplished by planting a plant (or plants) that the pest insects are more interested in than the food crop.
Another technique is to attract predators to the garden to eat the pests. Ladybugs eat aphids. Each year I leave a few unharvested turnips in the garden. These bi-annual roots regrow early in the spring. This early growth attracts aphids, the aphids in turn attract ladybugs. With little else to eat, the aphids stay on the turnips and help build ladybug populations. The ladybugs tend to wander around the garden, when I can no longer stand the aphids and want to plant another plant in where the aphid infested turnips are I yank out the turnips and bury them in the compost pile hoping to suffocate the aphids. This seems to kill the bulk of the aphids while leaving a good population of ladybugs to patrol the garden looking for those aphids that escaped.
These turnips are infested with aphids which attract the ladybugs

After being stung by a yellow jacket, they moved down in popularity, but I do see them enjoying nectar from many flowers. I've heard that they sting and collect insects for their young, but it wasn't until I actually saw a yellow-jacket flying away with a monster cabbage moth caterpillar that I started to believe in them. Every cole plant I grow seems to be covered with cabbage moths maybe because I still have several yellow-jacket traps.
Purple kohlrabi with cabbage moth caterpillars

These bugs are a key link in speeding decomposition of waste. Mostly I consider the compost pile the home of these “bugs”. While many of these bugs exist all over the garden. Its my hope to keep them away from the house and highly concentrated in the “compost area” this helps keep my wife happy! My technique is simply keeping the compost pile stocked with yummy bug food and ample moisture. Their job is to chew large chunks of food into smaller chunks allowing the bacteria and fungi more surface area to do their work faster.
A colony of carpenter ants moved into this silver maple log. The chewed tunnels leaving a pile of sawdust. The ants moved out after one season and mason bees moved into the burrows the next spring filling them with eggs.
I chainsawed this 2ft diameter log into 8" disks and used a 5/16" drill to add many more burrow for the bees. I rolled the log disks to a back area of the yard and left them standing up, many of the holes were filled with mason bee nests.

There are lots of different types of “bugs” in the compost pile: centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, ants, spiders, squirrels, birds, mice, I've seen honeybees eating used coffee grounds during warm winter days while ignoring honey I leave for them.
When the bugs get done with the compost the bacteria and fungi move in to take it to the next step. Once in a while some seeds will find there way into the compost and seem to take off.
The bugs have done a good job to make this compost

And here is what I'm looking bees pollinating food in my garden. 
This a spaghetti squash flower getting a visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment