Floral Encounters is now a designated Insect Sanctuary!

two small sweat bees on purple coneflower

We are extremely concerned about the rapid decline in insect populations, especially pollinators, not just honey bees. Our farming practices have increased the insect population on our farm very significantly since we began, but we had decided to devote more land to preserving insect habitat. Ensuring that insects have places to live and overwinter as well as providing large amounts of flowering plants for them to feed upon. Plus plants dedicated to larva (caterpillar) feeding. This will reduce our workable farmland but we think it is essential that insects have somewhere they can survive and flourish until such time as farming practices change and they can expand their range once again. You can also help to save the insects in your own yard. It's easy. We have created a series of articles to help you make a few small changes to your own yard which can help save the bees and other insects and in some small part reduce global warming by sequestering carbon. Come join us in helping to save the planet!

What Does Being And Insect Sanctuary Mean?

We are trying to preserve insects that work with us and that everyone needs to help us survive. That means mostly pollinator insects. We are changing our farm to be as favorable to pollinator insects as possible. It does NOT mean the we are a friend to ALL insects. Pest insects are not encouraged. Insects that do harm to crops either ours or those of the farms around us and discouraged as much as possible so we try not to create habitat that would be good for pest species. We want to help our neighbour farms and the planet not encourage pest species. So insects that eat all the leaves or suck on fruits or vegetables or carry diseases are not encouraged. We don't go out and wage war on them but we try not to encourage them either. Insects like termites, Japanese beetles, Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, Spotted Lanternfly and such like are not welcome. We also have way too many ants, but ants are very hard to discourage.

How do we do this?

1. We don't use any chemicals at all.
No pesticides to kill off insects. Since we are a medicinal herb farm we never used chemicals anyway but its important not to kill off insects. Sadly even when chemicals are used to kill off a pest they usually get other insects at the same time.

2. We grow a wide range of plants that insects like to feed on.
Being a herb farm most of our crops fit into this category already but we have been adding other plants that flower at times when there are gaps in our bloom times to ensure that the insects always have something to feed on.

3. We are not harvesting all of our crops any longer.
This was a tough decision since not harvesting means that we don't make any money from those herb crops. Most herbs need to be harvested just before they are going to flower or when they are in bloom. Not harvesting cuts into our profits quite a lot but it allows the pollinators and other insects to benefit from the flowers instead. It's a joy to see all the bees and butterflies swarming around some of their favorite flowers.

4. Leaving areas of our land semi fallow to help encourage insect habitation.
Lots of insects like to live under leaves, in brush piles, in dead trees and other such places. Instead of cleaning all this material up and disposing of it, which is what most people do we have decided to leave some around. We don't rake up all our leaves, we are going to leave some of the dead trees rather than cut them down - unless they might be a danger - and we are deliberately creating brush piles and log piles for the insects to live in.

5. Leaving bare soil for the ground nesting bees.
Most people want a thick grassy lawn. But if you do this then the ground nesting bees cant reach the soil and make their nests. So instead of re seeding our lawn we are deliberately leaving bare spots and creating spaces around our fields for the ground nesting bees to have access to the soil and build their nests. Most ground nesting bees are solitary and never bother anyone. For the most part people don't even see them all you see is the little cone of soil around the nest hole. Walking around takes a little more care so we don't tread on the nest holes but its worth it. We are now leaving one row in each of our fields bare of crops but with the soil exposed. Each year this will be a different row that is usually prepared during the fall or late winter before the bees are active. This gives the bees somewhere to nest in the fields undisturbed for that year. It also gives the cicada killer wasps somewhere to go too.

6. Growing some plants for caterpillars to feed on.
This can be a hard thing to do. You grow a nice plant and then some darn caterpillar comes and eats it to the ground! Choosing to do this means growing a lot more of that plant so the caterpillars have plenty of food and we then get some great butterflies and moths. For our crop plants that now means growing about 75% more than we need so we can have a little and the insects can feed on the rest. We now grow a lot more things like fennel and rue because the caterpillars love it. We have also put in a lot of milkweed plants to help feed the monarchs. Other plants will follow as encourage more species to our farm with different plants.

7. Leaving dead sticks, plant stems and other material for insects to nest in.
Some insects like to nest or overwinter in standing plant stems. The use the hollow centers to either lay their eggs or wait out the winter months. If that material is cut down and removed at the end of the season then all those insects are lost. Leaving material standing, at least in some places to allow insects to breed and overwinter helps increase the populations.

8. Careful maintenance.
Being a sanctuary does not mean just leaving some of the land to care for itself. If you do that then it gets overgrown, most often with the plants that you don't want. Some maintenance and care is still necessary. We have to remove the plants that are invasive and not helpful to the insects and ensure that we either allow native plants to grow there or plant others that the insects will like.
We have a small area of woodland on our farm but its being taken over by Japanese honeysuckle which we have to keep battling back and more recently by Japanese stiltgrass which is coming in from our neighbours woodland. All we can do is try and keep them under control to allow native plants to grow in our woodlands and not be smothered by the invasives. Japanese honeysuckle will engulf anything and we need to keep it off our spice bushes so we can protect the spicebush caterpillars that turn into lovely spicebush swallowtails. We are also growing more native woodland plants especially herbs that like deep shade to help restore our woodlands and remove the invasive.

9. Keeping an eye on other insects like ants.
Ants can be a real problem as they tend to come in and fill the gaps left by other insects or they can just invade and take over an area. If ants decide to build a nest in a particular area then all the ground nesting bees there will either leave or be eaten by the ants. Keeping the number of ants in check is challenging but we want a diverse ecosystem of insects a farm dominated by one species of ant. Therefore we have to discourage some insects in order to encourage others.

10. Offering water but not for mosquitoes.
While many insects need water no one wants to encourage mosquitoes! Having water available in the form of a small pond is ideal. Planting water lilies in the pond so the insects have somewhere to land and collect water is ideal. Adding some fish to the pond ensures that the mosquito larva do not stand a chance. Spraying water onto a fine pebbly surface so that the insects can suck up small amounts but there is not enough for the mosquitoes to lay eggs in is also a good option. Ensure that there is no standing water anywhere even the rim of an upturned flower pot or a discarded bottle cap is enough for tiger mosquitoes to breed.
We do still have mosquitoes its almost impossible on a farm not to, but the dragonflies love them and swoop around the fields scooping them up. Not enough to stop us getting bitten but enough to keep them happily fed. I would prefer other species for them to feed on but so many species have declined that mosquitoes now seem to form their main diet. We are working on trying to change that.

We are constantly adding to this list of things we do as we discover new insects around the farm. Sometimes it something we need to remove other times we are finding new species that are moving in because they have found a haven with us and we are happier for it.
As we see different insects we try and determine what their needs are and help to supply them. We would like to expand this to a much larger property but at present have insufficient funds to do so.

What it does NOT mean.

We don't encourage ALL insects. There are many that are pests on crops and many insects that have newly arrived (invasives) that we want to discourage at all costs.
Sadly while global commerce is a great thing and allows us to have access to products from all over the world it also allows hitch hikers to come along as well. Mostly this is due to poor management and not enough care taken to ensure and disinfect items before they leave their home country. Once some insects get here they find they really like it and most commonly don't have any predators to keep them in check so they expand at an alarming rate. This can cause devastation to the surrounding plants. Here in the northeast we have one of the largest US ports at Newark New Jersey where so many ships dock and bring billions of tons of goods into the country. A great deal of this comes from China, and considering we are in about the same geographic location on the same side of a continent the North East has a very similar climatic type to parts of China. (In geographic terms its known as 'China type'). This means that hitchhikers from China find they are well suited to the climate here but don't have any of the predators they had back home.
Our first major pest was Brown marmorated stink bug, which is a huge nuisance pest to vegetable farmers where it feeds on fruits such as peppers, but many others too, and makes unsightly blemishes of the fruits making them unsalable.
Next came Asian longhorn Beetle which has decimated trees in the Northeast causing massive amounts of trees to be cut down in an attempt to stop and eradiate it. It turns tree trunks into Swiss cheese and the trees fall over which is extremely dangerous.
Now we have Spotted Lanternfly. This nasty pest is decimating crops in the Northeastern region and without the diligence of everyone to help stop it will cross the country and could easily destroy a lot of our agriculture and food crops. Everyone should be on the lookout for this pest and help to ensure that it does not spread to the rest of the country.

These and other insects like them are NOT welcome here. We are working in conjunction with many sources in New Jersey such as the state entomologist and other organizations we help make everyone aware of Spotted Lanternfly and stop its spread.

Good insects we want to preserve pest insects need to be destroyed. So not all insects are welcome here.

Brown marmorated stink bug
Photo Susan Ellis - Bugwood.org

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, was first documented in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in September 1998. Since then it has spread across most of the Eastern States, through the Blue Ridge Mountains, into Michigan and also to California. It is now a major agricultural pest causing millions of dollars worth or crop damage every year. For homeowners it's a unpleasant nuisance as it likes to come inside to overwinter, but in warmer houses it may fly around rooms in winter months. If stepped on or hit it emits a very unpleasant smell. So NOT a good bug.

Janice Hazeldine PhD is the owner and head grower of Floral Encounters an organic Medicinal Herb farm that is also a designated sanctuary for pollinators.