Pests in the Garden
An insect is only a "pest" if its numbers are out of
balance and it harms a crop one is marketing. We have observed
that weeds and insects are best managed by timing and less
interference rather than more. For example, the artichoke
plume moth (Platyptilia carduidactyla) is a native insect that
has adapted on the imported artichoke plant. If the preferred
native habitat-Cirsium spp. thistle-is provided, the
"pest" (perhaps, more aptly called the Cirsium
thistle stem moth) moves off the artichoke plant and back into
its place in the food chain on the thistle plant, providing a
food source for a wide variety of beneficial insects.
A weed is only a plant out of place. Timing and an ecological
understanding can help control "weeds"-also called
pioneer species. (In nature, pioneer species have the
ecological responsibility to cover the soil with plant
material when natural disasters occur, to prepare the soil for
future successions of plants.) The soil is denuded in modern
agriculture, predisposing the pioneering activity of
"weeds". At Knoll Farms, we try to understand and
design systems where we either plant the pioneer species or
live with lower yields associated with some polycultures. We
believe the overall long-term benefits outweigh the short-term
loss of income.
These strategies work best on small-scale production systems
in which the farmer receives a premium for his/her production
labor. Unfortunately, large-scale monoculture designed for
high yield and low price are inherently flawed-both
ecologically and sustainably. Therefore, at Knoll Farms, we
have proven small-scale, unique products work best in the long
term, both for improving soil fertility and improving the
economic return of labor. An added serendipitous result: as
the soil is nurtured, it produces novel characteristics which
become trademarks for the farm in unique flavors, textures or
shelf life. Thus terroir-or Tairwį as we prefer to call it-is
eventually created and "the essence of place" shines
In order to have a barrage of hard
working insects and birds, you must first INVITE them! Okay.
So HOW do you extend an invitation to birds and bugs? The easy
way is to establish "homes" for the species you wish
to encourage. Set up the camp-ground, so to speak, and the
happy campers will fly in on the breeze and set up camp.
At this point, I will cite Good
Neighbors: Companion Planting for Gardeners; by Anna Carr,
Published by Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA 1985. "Ground
beetles, lady beetles... blister beetles, fireflies, soldier
beetles, tiger beetles, and rove beetles are good bug eaters.
Ground beetles like the shade of low vegetation such as
clovers and low growing weeds. They are also associated with
nightshade and amaranth. Lady beetles like to lay their eggs
on tansy and yarrow..."
"Hover flies or syrphids are
the brightly colored flies we see flitting about the garden.
Their larvae parasitize aphids and other small, soft bodied
pests. They need the pollen provided by flat, open flowers
such as daisies or marigolds."
"Tachinid flies are important
parasites of European corn borers, Mexican bean beetles, gypsy
moths and other caterpillar pests. Sweet white clover and most
flowering plants in the carrot family attract them..."
"Lacewings... are lovely
light green creatures that, as larvae and adults, prey upon
small, soft-bodied insects such as aphids and mealybugs. Tree
of heaven (Ailanthus spp.), sorghum and various evergreens are
favorite shelters for lacewings..."
"Wasps and bees are
beneficial garden creatures, for they are pollinators as well
as parasites. Braconid wasps are small (half an inch or less)
wasps that attack corn borers, sawflies and all sorts of
larval pests. The tiny white cocoons you find on the back of a
tomato hornworm were laid there by a braconid wasp. Flowering
carrot family plants such as Queen Anne's lace and yarrow
attract these insects..."
"The even smaller chalcid
wasps (less than a quarter inch long) parasitize lots of
caterpillar pests. The Trichogramma egg parasite you can buy
for biological control is a type of chalcid wasp. Like most
other wasps, it can be encouraged to stay around the garden if
you provide a border of yarrow, wild carrot and other
flowering plants. Wasps also seem to benefit from nearby
"Ichneumonid wasps are varied
in their size and appearance, but most species are important
parasites of larval pests. Fennel, rye, wild mustard and some
evergreens feed and shelter ichneumonids during part of their
"To encourage bees... plant
clovers, fennel, buckwheat and all sorts of flowering carrot
family plants." (pp. 30-31) If you don't have a copy of
this informative book, you would be wise to add (along with a
copy of a good insect identification book) to your library.
We would like to reemphasize the
importance of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum Fasiculatum),
yarrow, anise, caraway, fennel, dill, Queen Anne's Lace, and
cilantro for attracting a wide variety of beneficial wasps and
You may remember this article was
also to address insects and birds, so here comes the bird
part- Birds can be a tad pesky at times, especially if they
happen to be enjoying your favorite fruit. A diversionary
tactic will work well here, as birds are very beneficial on
the whole, and should be encouraged into your garden. Not only
are they great insectivores, they gladden the heart with their
a capella contributions. To divert them from your favorite
fruit tree, try planting the following to keep them busy; a
domestic cherry or fruiting mullberry will provide fruit for
June and July, an elderberry tree or sunflowers will keep them
eating from August through October, and holly and juniper
fruit from September to April and May. Mosquitoes are a
delicacy for Purple Martins, so maybe you want to erect a
house for them (the Martins NOT the mosquitoes).
Okay... have we elicited ideas and
gotten your right-brain working on "the garden
system"? Then get busy and send your
"invitations" out! It's time to exponentially raise
your critter quotient and let the wildlife in your area know
you run an equal opportunity garden!!
More Insect and Pest Information
Guardians of the Garden