What You Can Do To Help Save The Insects.
You can create small ecosystems in your garden to give the insects somewhere to live. They are lacking habitat in so many places. They need refuges in chemical free places where they can live and breed so that when (hopefully when) the massive agriculture is overturned we have pockets of them surviving that can go back out and repopulate the scoured environment.
1. Don't use chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or anything if at all
If you really think you must spray then please read out chemical use guidelines first.
2. Don't be afraid that these insects are going to come and pester
For the most part insects don't bother you. They are busy leading their own life and don't really care about you at all just like you don't care about them. If you give them some nice flowers to get nectar from and some places for them to make a home and raise their babies then they will leave you all alone and not bother you. True there are a few that will come to you but these are the blood suckers like mosquitoes and biting flies. This is an extremely small percentage of insects. Most want plants and flowers not you. So don't persecute the flower lovers because a few other want to bite you.
3. Don't be afraid of moths.
Some people freak out with moths, perhaps because the fly at night and you don't see them coming. For the most part our experience with moths is when one flies out of the darkness and crashes into us when we are outside for a barbecue or party. This can be startling but the moth is just confused and that's your fault, not the moths. Moths navigate by light, mostly moonlight. Then you come along and put out a big bright light and the poor thing is totally confused. Its like you messed with his GPS. You would not like to be killed just because your GPS sent you the wrong way, so don't kill the moth.
4. Grow plants that are friendly to pollinators and other insects.
This is the really easy part that also makes your garden look so much nicer, prettier. Grow plants that will encourage pollinators to come to your yard. Floral Encounters has a large range of different ones for you to choose from. Many have lovely flowers, others are less attractive to people but far more attractive to insects. Don't focus just on bees there are many other insect pollinators and we want to keep up as many as possible so grow plants like dill, fennel and other plants with the same kind of umbel like flowers to encourage them. The adore these plants.
The really nice thing about this is that most of these plants are perennials and they are pretty tough. So once you have them planted they take care of themselves mostly and you can just enjoy the flowers and watch the pretty butterflies and other insects and be proud that you are helping the ecosystem.
5. Design a simple garden with perennials that insects will love.
Its really not that hard. Instead of having that great big bleak flat green yard put in some perennial flowers around the edges, maybe make a curing bed of them in the center of the lawn. Put things where you can see them from the house, that way you can enjoy all the beautiful flowers and appreciate the pretty butterflies from inside when it gets really hot outside. There are plenty to choose from and it will actually make LESS yard work in the long run rather than more.
6. Grow a wide range of plants.
Don't just grow one or two different ones grow a whole bunch. That way you have as much diversity as possible. Often what draws an insect to your garden is not what it finally ends up with. If you see a nice piece of clothing in a shop window it can draw you into the store. Once you are there you find a whole bunch of other interesting stuff and end up buying something else entirely! It's the same with insects, they may be attracted on one flower but then check out your yard and find it's a perfect home for their young ones to live in.
7. Don't just focus on pollinators you can see.
You need breeding insects if you are going to help them survive so just feeding them nice flowers is not enough you need to provide plants that they can lay their eggs on, that the larva can eat and places for them to hide out. There are several things you can do here.
8. Plant for caterpillars.
Caterpillars can be a problem on some vegetable crops and even some ornamentals there is no doubt of that. However if we love butterflies, we can't have them if we don't have caterpillars first. So if you pick off and kill the caterpillars then you are killing the butterflies. Many people don't realize this and think of them as ugly bugs. At one tour of our farm a lady was pointing disgustedly at the caterpillars on our fennel and stating she always picked them off and killed them. Then a swallowtail butterfly came past and she paused to say how much she loved them. I had to explain that this was the same animal and if she killed the caterpillar then there was no butterfly.
So try and be nice to caterpillars. Grow more plants than you need. Swallowtails love fennel and rue and will eat plants to the ground if they get the chance so make sure you have enough plants for them to eat and some left for yourself as well. The same applies to tomatoes, if you grow them you have most likely seen the large green hornworm caterpillars that will eat the plant to the ground. However most people have not seen the beautiful moth that it turns into. So grow more tomato plants than you need and leave a few caterpillars to grow into beautiful moths. Don't remove parasitized caterpillars (ones that have stuff hanging all over them, as this will remove another predator who is killing your pests).
9. Plant for other insect larva too.
While a lot of times we can't see other larva, many are very good at camouflage so they don't get eaten so they are easy to miss. However a lot of insects lay eggs no plants and the only thing you notice is a few holes in the leaf or something. The best way
10. Plant so that you have flowers for the longest time possible.
Insects don't just exist in summer they are there all year. We often don't see them much at other times because their numbers are lower. They come of out hibernation and have to build nests, have babies and build up their families. To do that they need food. So having plants that flower from early spring right up until the killing frost is the best solution. Start with early flowering bulbs and flowers then check to see when plants flower so you can build a chain of flowers throughout the whole season. This will give your insects something great to feed on and make a really wonderful flower garden for you too. See our flower chart for assistance.
11. Don't cut everything down in the fall/autumn.
Its tempting to want to sanitize the garden before winter comes but this is the worst thing you can do. Having spent all summer encouraging the insects to come to your yard you want to keep them there. If you put in the right plants they will have bred and laid eggs ready for next year. Or they will have bedded down for the winter. So the last thing you want to do is remove all the material they have laid eggs in or hidden it. Leave perennial plants standing through the winter. These are the places that the insects will be nesting or hiding. If you clear all this away then you destroy everything you built the year before. Leaving plants rather than cutting them down also gives a lot more interest in the winter rather than just a large desolate blank space. It makes the garden still seem more wild and alive even in the bleakness of winter. Cut plants down just before they are coming up in the spring. If you see any obvious egg masses leave them behind or wedge them into another plant close by to allow them to hatch. Place all the cut material in a compost pile so that any insects can still hatch out and rejoin your garden. Don't place it in bags to be taken to the dump.
12. Dealing with annual plants for winter.
Annuals can be removed as soon as the ground is needed for new planting. Leaving plants also allows for seeds to drop and create more plants for you but also gives a natural food source for the seed eating birds during the winter. If you don't want to leave annual plants to seed, cut them down at the end of the season carefully shake the seeds into a large box then pile the plant material up somewhere in a loose pile so any insect eggs can hatch in the spring. Move all the material to a compost heap and compact down in late spring. The collected seeds can either be used to re seed your plants to a different area, or they can be placed in your bird feeders for the enjoyment of the birds during the winter months. Grow your own bird food!
13. Don't rake up all the leaves.
See your autumn or fall chores just got less. You don't need to rake up all the leaves. If possible leave them under trees or at the sides of your yard. Insects like to hide under leaves for the winter months. If you have ever been visited by a flock of birds in winter you will see them turning over all the leaves looking for insects to eat. They know the insects live there too. If you grow ground covers never rake the leaves out but let them sit. The plants will thank you for the extra compost and the insects will appreciate the cover. If possible use the leaves to mulch your flower beds or put under shrubs and trees. The benefits both the plants and the insects. The more you can leave the more likely that the insects will survive the winter and increase in numbers the next year.
14. Don't try and have a perfect monoculture lawn.
Despite what stores like Sears say about the lawn being 'a badge of honor' and other such marketing statements put out by lawn chemical companies, growing a monoculture of just grass and nothing else is not natural. Its not healthy for the grass and its not healthy for your soil or your garden. The reason that lawns have so many problems is because they are grown as single monocultures. That is why you need to put down so much lawn fertilizer and grub killer and all the other things. Just stop wasting your money on that. If the lawn has some weeds no matter. Once its mown from a distance it still looks great. In fact many think it looks better if it has a few flowers in it. Adding clover to your lawn will give it all the nitrogen that it needs without you having to add any. Use a mulching mower to return the material to the soil not remove it as much as you can. All you need to achieve is a full ground covering of green, it does not have to be grass. Bare patches and all weeds will need some attention but once you have a good coating, just mow that. If possible replace a lot of your lawn with perennial plants for the insects, then you cut your mowing chores down too!
Now you have your own insect sanctuary.
Anything that you can do with your yard will help. We need as many people as possible to put in plants to give these little guys somewhere to live until such time as we have a world that is friendly to them again.
If you plant a garden such as this then your garden work will decrease greatly. Much less mowing, little or no spraying and the insects will take care of themselves. If you choose to plant a vegetable garden you will most likely find that the number of pests you get will be much reduced as the predatory insects will take care of any pests you have and you wont have to bother at all.
Less leaf raking in the autumn/fall. Just a little bit of plant maintenance in spring and all you have left to do is sit back and enjoy your newly improved garden.
My thanks to the great photographers at Pixabay for most of the images in this article.
OTHER ARTICLES ON INSECT DECLINE AND HOW TO HELP
|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.|