Insects – the good, the bad, and the rather pretty

By Broken Hill Landcare

It might seem odd for Landcare to be talking about insects in favourable terms, as farmers are often using insecticides to control infestations.

That can be true, but when you hear of such activity it is often an indication that the natural order of things is out of balance.

There are occasional plagues, such as the recent plagues of grasshoppers, and then we have no choice but to fight ‘fire with fire’ resorting to large-scale control measures.

However, in normal circumstances and in our own gardens there are natural approaches which are preferable.

Insects pollinate our food plants

Every good fruit and vegetable grower knows that their crops will fail if their plants are not pollinated by insects.

The role of the honeybee is well known, but less well known is the importance of moths in pollinating – even in the dead of night. During the day, many of us notice how butterflies are also busy pollinating flowers by feeding on nectar.

We urge home gardeners to give serious thought to planting insect-attracting flowering plants in amongst your vegetables, such as alyssum amongst the winter vegetables.

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Alyssum emits a delicious vanilla honey perfume that attracts pollinator insects. Another traditional herb planted in vegetable gardens is borage – a pretty azure blue flowered herb which bees love.

Other herbs that attract bees are basil, catnip, chamomile, coriander, fennel, lavender, rosemary, marjoram, mint and sage.

Insect houses for bees and other pollinators are available from some local hardware shops and some local nurseries.

If you are handy, there are plenty of instructions online as to how to build them. Insect and bee houses are good as they will encourage valuable and essential insects to stay in your garden.

Don’t be concerned if you find wasps occupying an insect house you’ve provided – wasps are far more interested in eating other insects than they are in eating you. It is all part of balance or cycle of life. As a gardener, your role is to encourage and sustain it, not suppress it.

Insects are essential food for birds – maintaining the natural cycle

It is particularly good sense to attract birds into your garden and encourage them to stay around, as most birds happily devour insects.

Two important tips: first, if you have a cat, make sure you put a collar on it with a bell, to give birds fair warning that a cat is about.

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Secondly, try and avoid using insecticide, because if you poison insects, birds can also be poisoned which then results in a downward spiral – less birds, means less insects are eaten, which results in insect numbers increasing and then we respond with more insecticide and so it goes on … avoid this vicious cycle.

Instead, a couple of pots of the herb tansy, basil and pyrethrum placed by your doors are excellent for deterring flies.

The chrysanthemum is a member of the pyrethrum family so is clearly a winner in many respects: attractive and beneficial.

Mosquitoes dislike lemon balm, catnip, marigolds, basil, lavender and peppermint. Most ants are deterred by the mint family, particularly the herb pennyroyal.

There are many more herbs and spice plants that are excellent deterrents when used carefully in the right place.

So observe your garden insects and thank them for the helpers they are, busily keeping our plants pollinated and healthy. Investigate other ways of keeping out those you don’t want before you reach for the insecticide and plant with an eye to prevention. Happy gardening!

On Sunday, 12 December, there is an opportunity to be inspired and become involved in Landcare projects – or a chance to share your own ideas about how we all can better care for our environment.

At 4.00pm on Sunday, Landcare’s AGM will take place at the Centre for Community, 200 Beryl Street.

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Members are reminded to RSVP but if you’re not a member come along anyway and hear all about the many exciting projects Landcare has underway.

You’ll be inspired and will immediately want to join up so that you can be part of Landcare’s big year of activities in 2022.

If you join up and come along, you can stay for a complimentary meal after the AGM to celebrate the festive season. For catering numbers, please RSVP to [email protected]

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