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beneficial insects

Green

3 Reasons Why We Need to Build More Bug Hotels

July 19, 2015

3 Reasons Why We Need More Bug Hotels

Bug hotels have grown in popularity over recent years as we’ve become more aware of the plight of pollinators and the need to protect and encourage them, but why bother building them a winter home? Surely there’s enough nooks and crannies for insects to hang out in without creating bug hotels? You might not even like insects so why encourage more? These thoughts were in my mind recently when I was encouraging two community garden groups to build bug hotels in their gardens.

Loss of Habitats

Insect and pollinator habitats are dwindling due to large-scale commercial farming, hedgerow removal and human population growth. A few untidy gardens might not be enough for insects to feel safe and to prosper. Insects are essential to our existence and they need hidey places. If you need any more reasons to build a bug hotel and get stuck into a garden project that will enhance the space outdoors for you and the beneficial wildlife that surrounds it, here’s three more.

3 reasons why we need to build more bug hotels

Holes drilled in wood for solitary bees

No. 1 – Solitary Bees & Beneficial Bugs Need Our Help

Created carefully, bug hotels can provide good temporary residences for solitary bees to nest in and rest their weary heads as they hibernate during the winter months.

If you’re wondering why solitary bees are grabbing our attention, here’s a few figures for you to ponder over:

♥  There are 20,000 recorded bee species in the world and despite all the publicity honeybees receive, it might surprise you that 95% of the bee species are solitary.

♥  In Ireland we have 97 bee species, of which 76 are solitary bees

♥  Of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food supply, 71 are pollinated by bees.

♥  In Europe alone, 84% of the 264 crop species are animal pollinated and 4,000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees (UNEP, 2010).

Solitary bees rock!

Dr Una Fitzpatrick from Ireland’s National Biodiversity Centre published a paper in 2006 stating:

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline. More than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980, with 30% considered threatened with extinction from Ireland according to IUCN criteria.”

No. 2 – Bug Hotels Can Be Beautiful Pieces of Garden Art

3 reasons why we need more bug hotels

One of several Bug Hotels at the Delta Centre

If you’re able to take a trip to the Delta Centre in Carlow, look out for the bug hotels dotted around the grounds, adding to the look and feel of the gardens.

3 Reasons Why We Need To Build More Bug Hotels

Bug Hotels for Horticultural Therapy

Ian made the skeleton of this small bug hotel out of scraps of wood at home so that I could take it into my horticultural therapy class for the adults to fill.

I instantly fell in love with it and, despite already having lots of places for bugs to hang out here at home, would like to encourage more. I can already picture one of these hanging on the wall opposite my kitchen window.

No. 3 – Bug Hotels Offer Learning & Therapeutic Opportunities for Kids and Adults

3 reasons why we need more bug hotels in our gardens | greensideup.ie

Glen na Bearu Insect Hotel

Glen na Bearu is an inter-generational community garden project where everyone is being encouraged to reuse and upcycle. They opted for a large, pallet style insect hotel complex.

During my last morning with the group we discussed how best to create the bug hotel and I left them instructions so that they could work on it during the summer months with both the older gardening club and the teenagers who meet there at the youth club.

An Taisce created a handout detailing how to build a pallet style bug hotel which they found useful. You can find it here in English or as Gaeilge here.

When you build a bug hotel it’s difficult not to learn about the habitats of the beneficial creatures you’re hoping to attract. Ladybirds like dry sticks and leaves to hibernate in while lacewings enjoy bedding down among straw, cardboard and dry grass. These two insects in particular are excellent for keeping aphids at bay as their larvae have ferocious appetites for the little bugs, making them fantastic beneficial insects in our gardens.

3 Reasons Why We Need To Build More Bug Hotels

Straw and cardboard for lacewings

Castle Activation Unit in Carlow is a day centre for adults with intellectual disabilities. We found that carefully poking the pieces of slate, fir cones and sticks into the bug hotel was like getting stuck into a jigsaw puzzle, something that many of the adults enjoy doing at the centre.

Research has shown that puzzles are great for keeping our minds active so not only is this a fun and educational project, it also makes a good therapeutic one too and all the clients who participated in this workshop were delighted with the outcome.

3 Reasons Why We Need To Build More Bug Hotels Our own children are older now but I know when they were younger they would have really enjoyed collecting all the sticks and cones lying around and adding them to a hotel for the bugs.

3 Reasons Why We Need More Bug HotelsBug Hotel Aftercare

For all the positive reasons I’ve encountered for putting bug hotels in our gardens, I came across one negative from Naturing Nature who suggest that all those interesting holes and crevices can harbour unwanted pests and diseases.

Just like a regular hotel, if the toilets aren’t clean and the floors aren’t hoovered regularly, germs can spread. Good husbandry is essential if we want to encourage safety, warmth and welcome in our bug hotels. In the late springtime when the majority of insects have moved out, replace the straw and cardboard and sweep out the slates and bricks that might be hiding unwanted bugs or germs, replacing them with fresh bedding and new places for insects to scurry into if needs be.

If you’d like to see some more ideas for bug hotels, check out this Inspiration Green page which has some spectacular ideas while the Eco Ecolution blog mentions several ideas for filling your bug hotel.

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Vegetable Garden

12 Beneficial Creatures We Want To See In Our Gardens

April 22, 2014

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

Ten facts about earthworms1. Worms

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.

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

photo credit: bleu.geo via photopin cc

 

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.

 

photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

Song Thrush: photo credit: Derek.P. via photopin cc

3. Birds

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.

 

 

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

photo credit: Dluogs via photopin cc

 

4. Beetles

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.

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

photo credit: sankax via photopin cc

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.

 

 

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

photo credit: Gilles San Martin via photopin cc

6. Ladybirds

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.

 

 

7. Hoverflies

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

photo credit: mausboam via photopin cc

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.

 

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc

8. Lacewings

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.

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

photo credit: Mick E. Talbot via photopin cc

9. Centipedes

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.

 

Beneficial Bee10. Bees

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.

 

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Permission: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

11. Hedgehogs

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!

 

froggy12. 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.

 

Vegetable Garden

Not everything green in the garden is good…

July 24, 2013

The beans have them, the chives have had them, the weeds have them and the windowbox lettuce is full of them…. do you have them? We’re talking aphids, greenfly or blackfly as they’re more commonly known and due to the warm weather there’s been a population explosion in the garden this year!

aphids2013 might go down in the record books for high temperatures and fabulous fruit harvests but in many gardens it will also go down as the worse aphid invasion for many years.

Despite planting lots of companion plants to attract beneficial insects, hoverflies and ladybirds have been very scarce in our own garden this summer. We spotted the first of both only a week ago which is way too late to handle this kind of infestation.

Greenfly on roses

Aphids on roses

In an attempt to control them, during the heatwave I washed the aphids off the roses and broad beans with the hose every other evening, holding the buds in my hand and rubbing the flies between my fingers as I sprayed to ensure that water wasn’t wasted. However, I soon realised that wasn’t enough to stop them reappearing a couple of days later so made a garlic soap spray for the first time in years which was carefully applied to rose buds and bean tops to halt the aphid breeding cycle. I haven’t removed the bean tops just yet which is usually recommended as the seeds were planted late and we need to see a bit more height in the plants before we halt their growth. Any day now I’ll be nipping the tops off and feeding them to our pigs! In the meantime the recent rain will help to control the aphid infestation.

Dealing with aphids and greenfly without chemicals is more labour intensive than the chemical alternative but it can be done. If you’d like to know more about their rapid breeding cycle take a look at an old Wednesday Wiggler blog post here. There’s also a blog post written here about mealy cabbage aphids you might like to check out.

Have you noticed a particularly troublesome bug this summer?

Green

Bee Cause – How we can help the bees

April 15, 2012

Image courtesy of Friends of the Earth

Last week Friends of the Earth (UK) launched a campaign “Bee Cause”, calling on the British government to commit to a “bee action plan to save bees and save the country billions of pounds in the future.”

If you’ve been listening to the news over the past couple of years you’ll have no doubt heard that the decline in bee populations isn’t just a UK problem, it’s worldwide. A combination of issues from colony collapse disorder, parasites and shortages in habitats are being blamed but whatever the cause, it’s serious.

Bees aren’t just about honey – they help to pollinate strawberries, nuts, herbs, coffee and cotton to name just a fraction of items we use daily.

According to research released this *week it would cost the UK £1.8 billion every year to hand-pollinate crops without bees – 20% more than previously thought. That’s just one country, imagine that on a global basis. Finances apart, can you image a world without bees? I don’t even want to…

In recent years Britain has lost over half the honey bees kept in managed hives and wild honey bees are nearly extinct.  Solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas they’ve been studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether. These figures are replicated around the world.

One reason for the bee decline is a shortage of natural habitats, so Friends of the Earth have outlined simple steps people can take in their gardens to help provide it:

  • Sow bee-friendly seeds and plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden such as mixed wildflowers packets, single-flowering roses, open and flat-headed flowers like verbena and yarrow and tubular-shaped flowers such as foxgloves.

    Image courtesy of Gardeners World

  • Create a place to nest for solitary bees by piling together hollow stems and creating a ‘bee hotel’.
  • Try to provide a small amount of rainwater in a shallow bird bath or tray which honeybees need to keep their hive at the right temperature.

So please “bee aware” and encourage these very special insects into your gardens – they really do need all the help we can give them.

Have you come across bees in trouble? Last year we spotted a large bumblebee covered in parasites and clearly in trouble. It was distressing to observe but by providing flowers with pollen that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, perhaps it will help to keep the bees strong and more able for pests and diseases. It might be a small step, but it’s something.

 

* conducted by The University of Reading on behalf of Friends of the Earth (Reference: Breeze et al, 2012 – Chapter 4.) 

Green

Walking among Irish Wildflowers

July 27, 2011

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERS

When did you last walk through a field of wildflowers?

I’m searching through my memory bank and can only think of a handful of occasions that I personally have (and I’m a country gal), yet they’ve been around since neolithic times, so Sandro Cafolla of Design by Nature (www.wildflowers.ie) was explaining to us today.

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERSFrom their origin to ground preparation, weeds, growing conditions, identification and the lack of support to growers, Sandro passionately  shared some of his vast knowledge on growing crops of herbs and wildflowers to an interested group of us near Urlingford in Tipperary.

Sadly many native Irish wildflowers are now extinct or on the endangered list mostly as a result of weedkillers, farm machinery or heavy cropping. From corncockle to corn chamomile, wild cornflower and scarlet pimpernell – many of us will never see these flowers growing wild again.

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERS

Self Heal, Oxe Eye Daisy & Mallow

So why did Sandro give up his time for free today, give away seeds (and even fork out for a port-a-loo in a field? It was in the hope that we would help to spread the word…

Irish Wildflowers are great!

They can be grown commercially in Ireland as an alternative to four legged ‘crops’ and are incredibly important for biodiversity, encouraging a vast range of insects and butterflies. They can be used around fields, on verges or banks, as alternatives to mown lawns or just as cash crops – and more of us could be growing them.

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERSTo grow wildflowers successfully however, involves more than just buying a packet of seeds and scattering them a few weeks later, but that’s not for here or now (if you’re looking for more information go check out Sandro’s website). His passion for growing native Irish wildflowers was infectious, carrying us inquisitively and happily throughout the day.

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERS

Mallow & Oxeye Daisy

The following quote from their website explains why they feel it’s so important to grow Irish seeds:-

Our thoughts on imported ‘so called’ wildflowers: Retailers and online sellers are selling American, Chinese, or European flora claiming that they are wildflowers. These imports are not native Irish wildflowers and they are not suitable for nature conservation, they may not survive beyond the first year.  Often these products are not even wildflowers from other countries instead they are cultivated flowers. You will end up paying for expensive packaging and cheap substitutes. If in doubt, ask the horticulture division of Bord Bia, or the Department of Agriculture, for a list of growers of wildflowers in Ireland (and not just sellers). Watch out for false claims with seed mixtures containing cultivated flowers posing as wildflowers. When you buy native sourced Irish species they flower at the same time as the wildlife that visits the plants, native flowers can survive your local climatic conditions. Your purchases supports jobs in Ireland.

WALKING IN WILDFLOWERSStacia bought the wine …

So after a day outside in good company, catching up for ‘real’ with social media friends Margaret from Old Farm , Stasia from Our Smallholding  and Lilly from Smallholding Ireland, I’ll shortly be sitting relaxing with a mug of tea, planning where we can sow a few colourful Irish wildflowers of our own… and I’ll be wholeheartedly encouraging anyone I know to consider growing or stocking them too.

Vegetable Garden

Grow Something Different in the Vegetable Garden

July 24, 2011

squash in the polytunnelIt’s good to grow something different.

You can see how plants grow and experience new flavours.

Whether it’s an unusual vegetable or just another variety we always try to add to the list of tried and tested here in the Greenside Up garden. This year we’re trying a few new ones, starting with a yet unnamed variety of squash.

We saved the seeds from a squash that was bought from a local farm gate last autumn. Searching through the seed catalogues has us thinking that they might be of the ‘Blue Ballet’ variety but until the plants mature we’ll  just have to wait and see (and if they were F1 seeds they’re unlikely to develop true to type anyway). The two plants sown are romping away in the tunnel, so much so that I cleared away the Phacelia this morning that I’d sown in front of them to attract the pollinating bees in.

florence fennelNext up is Florence Fennel. This is the bulb plant and not the wispy herb. It was touch and go whether any would survive as the tiny seedlings resembled the weeds growing close by and many were inadvertently pulled up. A few have survived however, and we’re looking forward to cooking the aniseed flavoured veg when it matures.

Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale

We’ve grown a couple of different varieties of kale over the years, and always try to sow the hardy curly kale for some winter veg. This year we’ve added red kale to add some variety to our dinner plates and some Black Russian just because it’s a different shape.

kohl rabiI’ve been looking forward to sowing some wacky looking Kohl Rabi so this spring added them to the beds too. They’re still pretty small and we lost some due to the rampaging cattle that visited recently but I love them for their individuality and colour…

Last year we grew a tall variety of French beans in the polytunnel. They grew so rapidly we could have climbed up them to meet the giants. They were also full of strange-looking spiders and it was left to our 10-year-old daughter and a friend (invited around for tea lots that month) to pick them.

Looking After and Planting a Polytunnel in Winter

Three Sisters Planting in August

This year I’ve chosen a dwarf variety so that I can pick them myself.

Lastly we’ve added to the companion plants with the introduction of Poached Egg Plant sown directly into the bed in front of the broad beans, which have always suffered with the little pest black bean aphid. This pretty little annual attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids so fingers crossed they’ll arrive in time!

Vegetable Garden

Wednesday Wigglers ~Hoverfly

March 23, 2011
Hoverfly on Kale Flowers

Kale Flowers

Hoverfly

Often mistaken for wasps (they don’t have a pinched waste though), hoverflies are most definitely a FRIEND and should be wholeheartedly encouraged by anybody hoping to garden organically.

Their larvae are voracious devourers of aphids (greenfly, blackfly) but they can easily be mistaken for little caterpillars if you’ve never seen them before.

Known as beneficial insects, hoverfly can be encouraged into gardens by planting flowers that they are attracted to. These would include dill, borage, coriander, lavender, nasturtiums, poached egg-plant, Phacelia and Calendula (pot marigolds) to name but a few.

So next time an insect buzzes around you, don’t automatically swat it out-of-the-way. Take a few seconds to have a look and see if you can identify it.

Note: Insecticidal soaps don’t discriminate…. they will kill beneficial larvae too.