"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it". Genesis 2:15

Monday, September 9, 2013

Beneficial Insect Success!

I started an experiment last Fall that I am very happy with. I have been experimenting with a permaculture concept- a combination of green mulching and interplanting with flowering plants that attracts beneficial insects. In the past I have either weeded diligently or mulched heavily with some kind of prebagged mulch or hay to suppress all the weeds.

I have changed my mind about "weeds" and realize that most of them are probably good for one reason or another. Either they attract beneficial insects, or they bring nutrients up from the deeper soil that will be released back into the garden when they decompose. This year I decided to only weed out grasses (which have shallow root systems that compete for nutrients with your garden pants) or things I really did not want, like burrs.

Weeds that I usually loathed, like dandelions, I left unmolested. It took a great deal of self-control at first, but I came to revel and rejoice in my weeds! I no longer considered dandelions as loathsome, but instead as great bio-accumulators (that's the fancy word.) Periodically I chopped off the tops of the weeds to keep them in bounds and strew them on top of the garden soil. At times I had a pretty thick amount of this mulch which will keep in moisture and, later, break down and amend my garden soil.

Here is a picture from March 1st when things are just getting started. The arugula from last year is blooming (white flowers) and you can see purple flowered hen-bit in the foreground - something I used to loath and pull, but now have found out is edible! Hen-bit grows here all winter and dies off as soon as it gets hot. Its flagrant growth used to really bug me, but now I see that it is in reality a valuable green winter mulch!

In addition to the things I let grow up on their own, I also planted wildflowers, and scarlet clover seed was scattered all over. The clover is a nitrogen fixer and is a living green mulch. I let the clover set seed and hope it comes back next year, but just in case I will scatter some more seed this fall.

This picture was take on April 24th. You can see that the hen-bit has died back and is making a nice mulch on the ground. The clover is blooming amongst the turnips. Next year I am hoping to have a lot more clover.

Right away in the spring I noticed a wonderful result- my garden was full of lady bugs! Lady bugs need a lush moist landscape, and if you don't provide it, they will fly somewhere else. Usually I have a terrible problem with aphids, but this year there were so many lady bugs, they ate all the aphids and I did not have to do a single thing to control them! I began to notice many many more bugs - good ones!

You will have to click on this picture to see this, but there are some teeny-tiny red bugs here. They seemed to particularly like the dying hen-bit. I panicked when I saw them, but instead of trying to kill them, I looked up what they might be. They were Glossy Shield bug nymphs - they grow up into a type of predatory stink bug that eats caterpillars! The nymphs do suck plant juices, but they only seemed to bother the dying hen-bit. I saw these little nymphs all over my garden where I had left the hen-bit to grow. I'm so glad I left it there because I did not have my usual problem with caterpillars this year!

I saw so many other beneficial insects, besides lots of bees. I saw wasps galore of many different shapes and sizes (yes wasps are good). I saw Syrphid Flys (bee mimics) whose larvae also eat many pests such as aphids, Green Lace Wings whose larvae eat a wide variety of pest including spider mites and red mites (chiggers, hallelujah!), and many different kinds of assassin bugs. Check out the one below.

This is a large Assassin Bug, called a wheel bug, Arilus cristatus, eating a blister beetle on one of my tall verbenas. Blister beetles are horrible pests, but this is the only one I have seen this year!

Wasps, and hover flies are some of the many beneficial pollinators who will be attracted to your garden if you interplant it with wildflowers, especially small flowered ones, such as chives and yarrow. Not only will they pollinate your garden plants, but either they or their larvae eat many pests.

My first attempt at this new way of gardening was a success in my opinion. Gardening in a way that mimics nature as God planned for it to work is the best way. I will continue learning and implementing as much permaculture as I can on this urban homestead, and will keep posting the results.

To that end I am not planting a fall garden and probably not a spring one. Only what comes up by itself will be harvested, the rest goes back into the soil. Why? Because I have been gardening in this spot non-stop for 8 years and it is past time to give the garden a rest, as per the biblical mandates of giving the land a sabbath rest every seven years.

This will be another interesting experiment! Let me know what you think!

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