Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Garden in Balance

My goal is to not have any bugs in my garden. That is why I use aluminium foil to repel them. (You can read about using aluminum foil here.) However, it isn't practical to eliminate all bugs because some of them are good for the garden.  The good guys are called beneficial insects. They're good bugs because they eat the bad bugs.  Creating the perfect balance between the good bugs and bad bugs leads to a garden that is in balance. Having a garden in balance is the best way to garden organically and avoid a heavy reliance on pesticides.

Let me give you an example. Last night, my husband and I took the dog outside and we were walking by the grape arbor. My husband said to me, "Hey look, you have a bunch of bugs on the end of this branch."  I looked and sure enough, there were aphids all over one of the grape vines.  This is very normal, aphids love grape vines. Because the temperatures did not get low enough this past winter to kill off some of the bugs, aphids are everywhere this summer.  So what can you do about aphids?  One option is to get the hose and knock them off the plant with a blast of water.  Once on the ground, something will eat them.  This is one of my favorite techniques. I usually end up doing this a couple of times a week.

After I blasted off the ones I saw, I inspected the rest of the vines to see if there were any other aphids.  I only found one more vine (really it is just the vine tips that the aphids want) covered with the aphids. My first inclination was to blast them with the hose as well.  However, when I looked closely at the branch, I found a lady bug was doing the job for me. 

Lady bug and aphids on my grape vine.

I do realize this picture is dark, it was taken at about 9:00 pm last night when I found them. The big oval shaped thing is the lady bug.  The little dots above the lady bug are the aphids.  Rather than spray the aphids off the vine, I left the lady bug to eat all she wanted.  Here is what I found at 7:00 am this morning. It looks like that lady bug had a fine evening of dining!
Same lady bug on my grape vine. Notice there aren't any aphids now.

The lady bug is still there, but she is all alone now.  I know she will crawl along my grape vine until she finds something else to eat. 

So, other than lady bugs, exactly who are the good guys?  Any bug that attacks your plant is considered a bad bug.  Any creature that eats the bad bugs is beneficial to your garden. They are the good guys.  This includes birds (although they can eat your garden too), frogs, praying mantis, lacewings, spiders, and others.  You can order beneficial insects from a catalog, but without a good environment they will fly away or die. A better way is to plant what will attract them naturally. 

To attract the good guys, do the following:
  1. Don't use chemicals of any kind.  Chemicals don't discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs.  They kill everything.  This isn't good practice because once you stop spraying, all that you will get  back are the bad bugs.  It will take some time to attract the beneficial insects, birds and other creatures that will help. That's all time the bad bugs use to feast on your plants and reduce yield or kill them.
  2. Put in plants that will attract the good guys.  This means planting lots of herbs, flowers and other flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar.
  3. Have a water source.  Bird baths are great but some bugs drown in bird baths as they are trying to get water. Put out some flower pots on top of a tray of gravel. Fill the tray with water so the little creatures have a source of water too. 
  4. Put in landscape plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds (they eat insects too) and birds.
The goal is a garden that is healthy and in balance.  With a garden in balance, you will have less of a problem with pests and spend less time in the garden trying to control them. You will also improve the yield of your garden and you will get to eat more of those wonderful vegetables!

Happy Gardening!

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