Nature's Garden Helpers – Bugs and Other Friends
by Dawn Lesley Stewart
My yard is filled with garden beds: flowers, herbs, hosta, daylilies (to name a few) as well as a large organic vegetable garden. Early on my father, who taught me about gardening, impressed on me that not all bugs are bad. Not that I would want to come into close contact with some of these garden visitors, but they serve beneficial purpose among the plants.
The garden beds could not be complete without the buzzing of bees. My herb garden, especially, always has an interesting assortment of all types of bees from incredibly tiny ones to the more common varieties. Bees are important pollinators, and many plants would not bear flowers or fruit without their assistance.
Another beneficial pollinator is the butterfly. These colorful visitors not only pollinate flowers during their aerial ballets, but they are a colorful and fun addition to any garden. There are plants that are especially attractive to butterflies. You might want to consider building a butterfly garden.
I enjoy seeing dragonflies dart through my gardens and alighting atop a pole or tall plant stalk. A great benefit to dragonflies is that they eat mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. One thing I hate about working in the garden is dodging those pesky blood-sucking female mosquitoes, so seeing dragonflies in my garden brings smiles. As a side note, dragonflies can munch on butterflies, moths and bees, too.
Frogs & Toads
If your garden environment offers the right conditions, you may find frogs or toads hopping among the plants. It’s always a treat to find some in my garden. At night I can hear their voices raised in chorus. These amphibians enjoy eating a variety of bug pests such as slugs and snails.
Not all snakes are poisonous. The Garter Snake is a friendly variety. It is most apt to quickly slither away if it encounters a threat (such as a human foot almost landing on it, which happened to me last year). Garter Snakes can grow to about four-feet long, but the ones I see are typically about two-feet or shorter. A great feature of these reptiles is that they eat garden pests such as grasshoppers, beetles, mice and moles.
These winged insects lay their eggs on plants. As the eggs hatch, the hungry larvas devour all manner of garden pests and their eggs such as aphids, spider mites, leafhoppers. They also eat the eggs and caterpillars of some moths. To me, this is not a beautiful insect, but it is beneficial.
These red beetles with black dots are a favorite. Ladybugs in my garden mean they are munching their way through the aphid population. Don’t confuse good ladybugs with unfriendly squash or bean beetles, which can also have spots. Ladybugs will eat garden pests while squash or bean beetles will chomp plants.
Seeing a Praying Mantis for the first time has to be something like viewing an alien life form. The name is derived from how the mantis holds its front legs in a prayer-like position. A Praying Mantis is long and green, often blending into the foliage. They also have an unusual triangle-shaped head. They typically eat grasshoppers, crickets, moths, flies and other insects.
Not all spiders are friendly, and some spider bites can cause allergic reactions. However, spiders are good for the garden. They string their webs between plant leaves, creating a sticky bug-catching device that snares unwary flying or crawling insects. This indiscriminate way of catching food can snag both beneficial and harmful bugs. My favorite garden spider is the Black and Yellow Argiope. This particular spider weaves a zigzag design down the middle of its web. Its web design is distinctive and attractive. The spiders are large, and wear decorative black-and-yellow coloring to better identify them.
I can remember my father encouraging my brother and his friends to dump their live unused earthworm fish bait into the vegetable garden. Earthworms aerate the soil so that it breathes and also better feeds moisture throughout the garden. Also, earthworm “poop” is an excellent nutrient and soil conditioner. To encourage earthworms to multiply, make sure the garden contains organic material such as compost or leaves raked or mulched into the garden.
I hope this guide helps you better relate to some of the life you find wandering in your garden.
Happy Gardening !
Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over thirty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book) and Mist-Seer (fantasy novel).
Copyright 2011 Dawn Lesley Stewart