BLOG: Insects - Friend or Foe

Insects: Friend or Foe?

In preparation for the Garden Patch’s Insects Friend or Foe workshop, we delved into the insect world to bring you interesting information about the best and the worst inhabitants of our Saskatoon gardens. Insect management can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, but if you know that insects in your garden can be friends as well as foe, small farmers and home gardeners can have gardens that also teem with insect life, and indeed are healthier because of it.

One of the exciting things about growing food in a limited space (in our case 1.5 acres) is that we are able to take care of our garden in a way that would be almost impossible on a typical farm in Saskatchewan. For example, most gardeners have experienced picking the Colorado Potato Beetle off of their taters and killing them by hand or in soapy water. Doing the same thing in a 1,668-acre farm (Saskatchewan’s average in 2011) is hard to imagine.

One of the things we enjoy about the Garden Patch is how diverse our crops are, the way we rotate our crops, and our healthy mix of flowers and food. These things are perfect for attracting a wide range of insects. Gardeners who come to the Garden Patch might not see the secret world of insects at first, but it coexists with us under every leaf; in the mulch; and on our flowers.

This year our most destructive pest is the Sunflower Beetle, a new inhabitant of the garden that we have not figured out how to control, other than by picking off the larva regularly. But looking at them reveals a secret to insect management. Some of our sunflowers are separated by paths and large areas of garden plots from the others. These separations have allowed some of the sunflowers to escape the damage by the beetles! What we can take away from this is that by spacing out your plants and having a mix of different plants rather than blocks of one plant, you are able to reduce pest damage.

Another pest we’ve seen in the garden this year was the Western Forest Tent Caterpillar. These are the caterpillars we’ve been seeing each spring that swarm bushes and trees. These pesky caterpillars can be easily controlled by picking them off by hand, by spraying with a soapy mixture, and even better, by removing the eggs in autumn (which we’ll demonstrate at the workshop).

Amidst the pests are also some garden heroes, such as the ladybug, lacewings and dragonflies! These insects naturally keep the pest population low by eating them. At our workshop we’re going to look at all of these garden heroes and learn how to identify them in your own garden.