Some of the more frequently questions we get asked include "what's been eating my (insert your plant of choice here)" or "are insects good for my garden".
Well in short our answer is "it depends"...........
Now we know that might not be the answer that you wanted to hear so we thought we ought to explain ourselves and share our thinking and approach with you!
From a gardening point of view we've defined insects into two broad categories:
Those that are beneficial and who we want to encourage, &
Those that aren't and we want to discourage!
Again we're guessing that might not be as helpful as you'd hoped for so we'll keep going!
Let's consider the humble woodlouse. Here's something to watch that shows them hard at work:
Now we've had problems with woodlice in the past - last year they seemed to take a shine to our Little Dorrit sunflowers we were growing for a local charity and every day when we moved the pots we found loads of them scurrying about in all directions. Were they to blame for the nibbled leaves we used to find every morning, or were they simply an innocent victim of a more cunning and sinister predator...…..
Well we know that woodlice do a great job at helping the breakdown of dead and dying plant material and that they are beneficial in that respect. By feeding on that decaying material they play a vital role in our compost heaps and in recycling nutrients in our garden. Good so far, but what about the Little Dorrits?
Well. whilst they might have a nibble at some of the more tender plants and seedlings it's more likely that something else had the initial nibble and softened the sunflowers up for the woodlice to then come along, have a nibble themselves and then take the blame!
We know that as woodlice do not usually damage healthy plants, although they occasionally damage very soft plant tissues, such as our seedlings and sometimes our softer fruit, such as strawberries.
Holes in older, tougher plant material will have been caused by something else, such as slugs or caterpillars and if the woodlice get a sniff of that then that's when they'll think it's their turn to have a go on those plants that are then starting to die and decay. Make sense?
So woodlice should be naturally abundant in a healthy garden and controlling them is both unnecessary and - to be honest - futile! When you then consider that they are food for many other beneficial insects and creatures such as some spiders, ground beetles, centipedes and parasitic flies, and frogs, toads and - if you're lucky - shrews - then you know that we ought to welcome them with open arms!
Let's look at other insects that play a vital role in our gardens.
So who's seen Barry B Benson in Bee Movie? We have. Lots of times! And the scene over Central Park when the bees are dying? Well that's why bees are vital - they act as excellent pollinators for our plants.
And why is that so important? Well the transfer of plant pollen to a female species of the plant enables fertilization and enables our plants to grow. Simple!
Look a bit like bees but they serve a different purpose and there are two types we'll mention - the common wasp (that's stripey like a bee) and the parasitiod wasp (that's not stripey).
The former hunts caterpillars and other insects in summer to feed grubs and the latter lay their eggs inside other insects and aphids that when they hatch out enjoy eating their hosts. That in turn stops the aphids eating our plants. Nice!
Well we know what they look like and we've heard lots recently about the threat posed by some of the non native species. But why's that important and what do they do?
Like the wasps we mentioned earlier they're predators of aphids and some other insects. Again they eat them, so the aphids don't eat our plants!
Again a useful predator to welcome to our gardens as certain types will manage (eat!) other ground and soil dwelling insects - such as the larvae of the vine weevil.
The vine weevil is one of the most widespread, common and devastating garden pests. The adults eat leaves during spring and summer and the grubs cause even more damage over autumn and winter as they chomp through our plants' roots.
We need more beetles!
Now for an insect that serves as both a pollinator and predator!
Adults act as pollinators and are attracted to flowers with open centres, pollen and nectar. The larvae of many hoverflies eat aphids. There. The best of both worlds!
We all know that they take their names from Latin and are said to have 100 (centi) feet (pedis) but that's not strictly true. This predatory anthropod has one pair of legs per segment of it's body. And the body often ranges between 2cm and 6 cm long.
Does that mean 100 feet? We've not taken the trouble to count them, but we do know that they like to hunt on their prey that lives on or just below the surface of our soil!
So there you have it. On balance we'd say with a resounding yes that insects are vital to the creation of a well balanced garden and eco-system and we should take every effort to encourage them into our gardens - whether that's to help pollinate our plants or to help us better manage predators.
The big question though is how we can do that? Well we'll be talking about that next - including how we're going about building our very own bug hotel! Here's what we have at the moment.
What we're thinking though is Trump Towers - the sort of thing that Barry B Benson and maybe even Vanessa would want to stay in! Will we pull it off? How long will it take? Is this more fanciful thinking? Who is Barry and Vanessa? - if you don't know then you need to re-read the article!
We'll start that shortly and post regular updates. Keep following the story and feel free to send us pics of your bug hotels.