I’m often asked how I manage the “pests” in my garden. You know, the Squash Bug, Aphids, etc.,  those nuisances that seem to devour a garden overnight.

And, trying to stay “organic” in the process is quite a feat.

I’m learning.  What I’ve learned most recently is that there is quite an army out there that will help you fight the bad guys, you just need to provide a haven for them to hide and reproduce.

The first means of attack against those pests is to provide a barrier of flowers.

Flowers are host plants to many beneficials and their showy, colorful petals are like neon signs to the bugs you want to have in your garden.  I didn’t know this until I took the Master Gardening class.  Fortunately for me and my vegetable garden, I love flowers and had surrounded the outside of my garden with flower gardens.  I plant mostly perrenials because I’m a bit of a lazy gardener and don’t want to hassle with replanting annuals every year.  I do plant some- pansies and petunias, but everything else is on it’s own for survival!

I also plant flowers in and among my vegetable plants.  Marigolds have the notorious reputation of being a repellent against certain pests.  Nasturtiums also are not of favorite of some bugs.

Of course, there are also those flowers that are favorites of some bugs but I’d rather they eat the flowers than devour my vegetables!

Next, become an expert of your beneficial bugs.  Most people know what a Lady Bug looks like but do you know what the larvae looks like?  The larva actually will consume more aphids than the adult beetle.  How about a Lacewing?  Can you spot their eggs on the underside of a leaf?  The eggs look like little balloons suspended in the air on a straight piece of string – it’s quite amazing to see.  A Praying Mantis is familiar to most but could you identify the egg sac in the fall?  It might be confused with a blight or fungus on a branch.  Did you know that those pesky wasps that fly around are actually extremely helpful against those pests in the garden?

Paper Wasp - eating a cabbage caterpillar from my broccoli!

A key to all of this is patience.  Those beneficials take time to build up, but once they start to inhabit your garden, they are a force to be reckoned with.  I rarely spray or powder anything anymore.  I’ve also begun to teach my children what the good bugs look like so they’re careful not to kill them.

Wheel Bug nymph - loves to eat soft bodied "food" like aphids

Learning the beneficials in my garden this year is my new project.  With my camera and the Audubon book of insects and spiders as my reference, we’re making some good head way.

Like this one –

The Long-legged Fly. They're tiny but everywhere. They eat soft bodied insects.

And did you know that Dragon Flies are voracious mosquito eaters??

Know what these are?  My chickens love them – they’re grubs.  The larva stage of beetles.

Now it’s true, at this stage it’s difficult to tell what type of beetles these will grow up to be but for the most part, beetles are very beneficial.  Except those obnoxious Japanese Beetles – squish ’em!!!

And of course, we have a great respect on our farm for spiders.  We even feed them!

Black Widows have to be one of my favorites.  They eat A LOT of bad bugs, they’re shy and timid, and I think they’re beautiful.  I teach the kids to be respectful of them, don’t mess with them unnecessarily because they can sting.

Most people are aware of these guys.  Right now we have lots of babies hopping around the garden.  They’re so fast when they’re little – remind me of human toddlers 🙂

Praying Mantis - about 3/4" long

I must admit I’m really enjoying this project.  Any apprehensions I have about certain bugs are quickly overcome.  To take their picture, I have to set my camera on “macro” and you can’t use telephoto.  The camera has to be directly on top of my subject!  I was a tad nervous about photographing the Paper Wasp but the book said they were fairly docile.  Talk about trusting what you read!  The wasp was fine with the camera and actually stayed quite still while I took several shots.

The other aspect of this project – observance.  I look at my garden a little differently, more thoroughly when I’m checking my plants.

Bugs – they’re fascinating!!