July is a time when Kentucky vegetable gardens are teeming with life, summer crops are thriving, bees are buzzing, and inevitably you might see a pest or two.
One way to prevent long-term pest problems organically is to increase natural populations of good bugs also called beneficials in your garden. These are not limited to bugs, but include other insects, birds, bats, and garden critters.
Here are a few key ways you can attract
more beneficials to your garden this year:
Adopt no spray methods: Avoid conventional pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. When these chemicals are applied in the garden they harm non-target insects that would otherwise be eating the "bag bugs" and destroy good soil microbes working to break down nutrients for your plants. If you need a short-term pest solution read our August newsletter last year on a few methods to stop any immediate pest pressure.
Create habitat: Create spaces in your garden for beneficial insects by adding organic matter, minimizing disturbance of the soil, and keeping the soil covered. You can do this by adding straw, leaf litter, and mulch to your garden beds and pathways. Also, by establishing more permanent beds in the garden that are about 6-12 inches above the soil surface. This will help eliminate your need for continuous tilling and focus on creating a rich environment for animals in the soil food web.
Provide food sources: Many adult beneficial insects like green lacewings feed off plant nectar or pollen. Adding flowering plants with varying bloom times will motivate beneficials to hang around and start their life cycle over in your garden so their larvae will continue to eat pests in the future.
Recognize the good: There are a lot of beneficial insects and animals out there and they have many different lifeforms. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with what they look like so you don’t accidentally get rid of any "good bugs" when working in the garden.
Accept it is not a zero sum game: In an ecosystem every species has a role. "Bad bugs" need to be around as a food source for beneficials. A handful in the garden will not destroy a crop. It's better to plan for some form of pest pressure by planting more than you need or put in a catch crop to deter them.
To learn more about "good bugs" in the garden:
Read other Strategies to Enhance Beneficials from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.
Review Xerces Society's Guide to Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects.
Talk with a local expert in extension, garden center or local business like Idlewild Butterfly Farm in Louisville, KY to get recommendations.
--Katie Harvey, OAK Staff