Gardening for Beginners
When we began growing our own food in the Greenside Up garden, one of the early problems we encountered happened when we were trying to identify the ‘good’ wildlife from the ‘bad’. This was before the days of Google and we had no idea whether we were looking at friends or foe scampering across the plants and soil. It’s much easier to check today, but to help you encourage beneficial insects and other creatures into your garden, I’ve compiled a list of a dozen that might help you to ditch the chemicals for good and garden more sustainably.
List of 12 Friendly Creatures in Our Gardens
The hardworking invertebrate of the soil, worms are one of our number one friends. A lack of worms indicates a poor soil but adding lots of home-made compost or well-rotted organic matter will soon encourage them back. Here’s ten facts about earthworms you may not know. I was particularly surprised to learn that light paralyses them.
2. Solitary Wasps
Not all wasps are bad guys intent on stinging us. Solitary wasps tunnel out nests in rotten wood and sandy soil. They fill their nests with aphids, flies, weevils or other insects to feed their young.
Song Thrushes like to eat slugs and snails and Blue Tits eat caterpillars. Buying bird feed that specifically encourages these species into your gardens will help to keep a check on the pests activities.
Carabid Beetles (or ground beetles) live mainly on the soil surface and are mostly black, brown or metallic green. The larvae prey on many insects, including slugs and pest eggs. If you’re laying beer traps to attract slugs and snails, always make sure the traps are positioned just above the soil line so that the beetles don’t accidentally fall in.
The majestic Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles are often found under stones, logs or pots. They eat slugs, cutworms and leatherjackets among other things.
5. Wolf spiders
Have you ever spotted spiders scampering around as you weed? I’m slightly nervous of spiders but always leave these guys alone as they eat many insects.
Newcomers to gardening may be forgiven for thinking that ladybird larva look like something that will cause damage. If you do kill them, you’re ridding yourself of an
insect that can eat between 200-400 aphids before it pupates into the more familiar ladybird we’re accustomed to.
Only the larvae of hoverfly eat aphids but planting flowers such as limnanthes (poached egg flower) or any other yellow or white flowers that happen to be particularly attractive to them, will encourage hoverflies into your gardens and help to keep the aphid population down.
I know I’ve mistaken these for caterpillars in the past, a pest we don’t want on our veggies, so do look closely before you automatically rid your plants of all insects.
Again, ferocious eaters of aphids, the delicate lacewings can be attracted into your garden by careful planting. The female lacewings can lay up to 400 eggs. As they hatch and the larvae grow they can eat up to 600 aphids before they become adults, about a month later.
If you have an aphid infestation, try spraying a plant or two with a sugar-water solution (1 tablespoon sugar per 200ml water) which may help to attract lacewings.
Garden centres often sell lacewing attracting pheromones and bug houses too.
I often have to check twice whether centipedes are friend are foe as they don’t look especially appealing! However, if you do spot them in your garden, leave them be.
Centipedes live in the surface of the soil and shelter in pots, logs and under stones. They prey on several different small soil animals as well as their eggs.
Hopefully by now everyone is aware just how beneficial bees are to our very existence. It’s been said that if the bees die out, the human population will only survive for another four years. Here’s a post I wrote recently that suggests five ways we can help bees survive. Number six on the list would be to become a beekeeper, a hobby many are taking up to protect and help them.
One of the most viewed posts on this blog is about getting rid of slugs organically. Hedgehogs love to eat slugs so if you can find a way of encouraging them into your garden you’re on to a winner. They do however, like to eat worms so perhaps encourage them away from your compost heap!
12. Frogs and Toads
Adding a pond has been on our list of garden improvements for a long time and hopefully we might manage it this year because frogs and toads just love to eat slugs and snails. Whether you have the space for a pond or just a small water feature, by it into your garden you are likely to attract more beneficial wildlife into your garden.
Stop using chemicals
If you’ve used chemicals of any description in your garden in the past, it may take a while for the natural balance to restore itself. However, by planting a broad range of insect attracting flowers, native hedgerows, adding organic matter on a regular basis or leaving out specific feeds to attract different creatures, you’ll begin to encourage all the beneficial creatures to return to your garden, helping to keep the bad guys at bay.
There are many other gardeners friends, from bats and ducks to parasitic wasps, did any in the list above surprise you? You might not like the idea of sharing the outdoors with a few of these but it’s unlikely you’ll come across too many of them as most are tiny and they like to keep themselves to themselves. Have you come across any creatures that could be added to the list? I’d love to hear about them.