Part of the fun of organic gardening is getting to know your neighbors – beneficial insects. Because organic gardening practices include the use of natural methods to control problems and boosting soil fertility, insects love organic gardens.
Beneficial Insects and Organic Gardening
Most of the time, beneficial insects visit my garden. Today I took some beneficial insects pictures out in the vegetable garden and in the little cottage garden next to the shed. The praying mantis has been frightening me on the porch every day. He lurks on the door frame or right over your head as you step onto the porch. Then he turns his head and fixes you with a beady eye, moving his ‘praying’ hands as if clapping. I don’t know whether he’s cheering me on or being sarcastic that I’m out walking the dog again. I give him a wider berth.
Let me introduce you to the beneficial insects I met in my organic garden and around Seven Oaks….
Garden Spider (Argiope Aurantia)
Meet Argiope aurantia…the black and yellow garden spider. (She is also referred to as a St. Andrews Cross spider because of the black markings on her body.) She is HUGE.
She is about four inches long and hangs upside down in her web. My tomatoes have been amazingly bug-free this year. So thank you, Argiope.
The other day my husband grabbed the basket we use to collect garden veggies and headed out to the garden to pick tomatoes. I said to him, “Watch out for the bed of beefsteak tomatoes; we’ve got a really big spider there.” He sort of made a face at me. He knows I’m a little afraid of spiders. I think he thought I was exaggerating. I smiled to myself and kept working in the kitchen. A few minutes later, I heard a muffled exclamation float in through the kitchen windows, “Holy cow!” I looked out and my hubby was circling the tomato bed, peering at the spider, gently touching the web, just as fascinated as I was by her large yellow and black striped self.
She’s so big, she’s become like a pet. She’s a great beneficial insect!
Crab Spider (Mecaphesa spp.)
Praying Mantis (Mantodae)
Among all the beneficial insects in the garden, I’m fascinated the most by the praying mantis. They seem both graceful and deadly, moving with precision and speed that often surprises me. I know why this particular beneficial insects has chosen my front porch for his hunting grounds. We have one of the doorbells that glows at night, and it attracts moths. By hanging over the doorbell area, he snags many flying insects each night.
Why Beneficial Insects?
Don’t be afraid of the bugs in the garden. When my little nephew was here, all he wanted to do was kill bugs. His parents had taught him “all bugs are bad” and Billy the Exterminator is one of his favorite shows. When we walked around the garden, I had to stop him from stomping bees, spiders, praying mantis and lady bugs. I hope he remembered that some bugs are his friends, and not all bugs are bad.
In an organic garden, when nature rules, the insect populations are balanced. The “good” bugs like these feed on the “bad” bugs that harm plants. They keep them in check. Additionally, birds and other animals help keep insects that can harm plants in check, too. By making sure you nurture the good bugs like these beneficial insects, you’ll naturally lower the population of bad ones.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.