Learning To Love (Some) Bugs

Bug BookA new book takes a wholistic approach to the use of beneficial insects in organic gardens.

Regular readers of the Planet Natural Blog know our enthusiasm for including beneficial insects in any Integrated Pest Management program.  Gardening author Jessica Walliser  — she co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” radio program aired on station KDKA in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania — has a new book out that discusses beneficials role in your garden environment and what you can do to create landscapes friendly to them.

Attracting Beneficial Bugs To Your Garden: A Natural Approach To Pest Control (Timber Press) is a detailed, wholistic, and wonderfully illustrated guide to the lifestyles of all the insects that inhabit the organic garden as well as creating the conditions needed to encourage those you want in the fight against those you don’t.

We referenced Walliser’s work before in connection with her fine book Grow Organic co-written with Doug Oster. Here, she takes on a subject she previously addressed in her book Good Bug, Bad Bug, a guide to the things you might find crawling around on your  plants.

Attracting Beneficial Bugs takes a more comprehensive approach than the earlier book. Yes, it gives a detailed guide to the beneficial insects you want to populate your garden, as well as the plant destroying insects on which they feed. But it sees the garden as a complete eco-system, one that hosts plants and insects of all sorts. At the center of this approach is the idea that upsetting the natural balance by using pesticides has consequences that extend far past the absence of the bugs, including the beneficials, that results from pesticide use. She makes it clear: “Pesticide -free habitat is an absolute necessity for natural enemies,” she writes in the chapter about beneficials subtitled “Who They Are, How They Work, And What They Eat.”

Among many worthy discussions in the book, “What They Eat” proved most interesting to us. Beneficial insects don’t survive alone by eating insect prey. Almost all require nectar and pollen as well. Walliser points out growing a variety of plants in your garden including those that give beneficials what they need goes a long way to encouraging those insects you want to gather and stay in your garden. She points out that an insect who has to travel to find pollen is not likely (depending on the distance) to come back to where you want them.

To this end she devotes a large section to the plants that attract and nourish beneficials (including pollinators), a guide to designing your garden to encourage them, and a section on companion planting that puts the predators you want closest to the plants you need to protect. She ties this all together in a chapter that attaches specific plants together with particular beneficials and the bad bugs they consume.

There’s also a chapter on the equipment — bug lures, supplemental foods, and seed blends — that contribute to success using beneficial insects. There’s also information on the proper care and distribution of purchased beneficials. We were flattered to see Planet Natural listed at the end of the book in her short list of resources for beneficial insects and supplies.

Walliser’s beneficial insect book is unique in its encompassing eco-system, ecology-minded approach. It concentrates more on profiling the good insects than it does the bad. There are several good guides available for that, including at Walliser’s own website. But it’s unique in the way it sees beneficial insects as part of the big picture. And the book provides intriguing detail and insight in short sub-sections derived from interviews she’s conducted with leading researchers and experts in the field. Attracting Beneficial Bugs To Your Garden opens a new chapter on the understanding and use of bugs in the organic garden.

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