Friday, August 24, 2007
A garden should be a microcosm of the larger environment. A healthy environment has a variety of inhabitants. Some, like potato beetles, flea beatles, hornworms, and crows want to eat what you want to eat. Others want to eat the beetles, hornworms and at least chase the crows. The predators in my garden make my job as gardener much easier. The key to attracting and keeping the predators is creating an attractive environment for them.
There are several ways to make your garden enticing to the "good" residents. In the simplest terms, provide them shelter (and food) and they will come. (Isn't that why the "bad" bugs come as well?) I plant plenty of annual flowers and herbs - marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, basil, parsley, and borage scattered throughout the garden. These attract bees and other polinators. They provide shelter to spiders, lady bugs, praying mantids and a host of predators. There are also several spots dedicated to perennial herbs. I leave a grass border around the garden within the fence to offer protection as well. Clematis and annual vines are allowed to climb on sections of the fence where they won't block sun. Outside the fence and near the garden are wood piles, rock piles and more flowers, many native that again provide protection for my little helpers.
It's comforting while picking potato beetle larvae off of the leaves to see a predatory wasp hunting for the nasty little critters as well. I don't feel so alone in my little battle to bring in a harvest. The lovely garden spider has taken up residence in the leaves of a tomato plant. Tiny spiders and some larger, more intimidating Wolf Spiders crawl about in the mulch. There is a toad living under a broken flower pot surrounded by cucumber vines. In the morning while I'm picking tomatoes, the garden is filled with the chattering of goldfinches hanging from giant sunflower seed heads (I plant them just for those birds...). I even think the crows have taken care of most of the hornworms while they help themselves to my tomatoes (good, or bad, you decide). Bill, the Cat likes to hide under the black-eyed peas and leap out at the crows.
So look for the "good" in the creatures that enter your garden. While the garden spider that shows up in August may be a surprise when you reach for a tomato, know that she's helping you keep pest free. And she won't bite, I promise (this is coming from an avowed arachniphobe). Toads love slugs and I love toads! Even the chickens and guineas help by eating bugs outside the fence and feasting on those I pick from plants. Why not do a little nature hunt in your garden and see who's set up home in the environment you've created? You might be surprised.