Ask any of my close friends and they will tell you I really do not like creepy-crawly things. My neighbors laugh heartily when they hear a scream coming from the back yard as they look to make sure I am O.K. I still scream when a caterpillar crawls on me or a bug jumps out of a flower that I am getting ready to pick. With that said, my love for gardening wins out over
my fear of bugs.
This project of how to reclaim my backyard all began the morning I gazed out the kitchen window and saw the backyard was covered in a fine layer of spider webs. What I saw had me a bit perplexed! The entire lawn had been invaded by grass spiders! I had never seen anything like it before. Clearly my backyard needed help. I began researching how to tackle this problem. This is what led me to consider beneficial garden insects to restore the natural balance to my backyard. According to the farmers almanac lady bugs, praying mantises, dragon flies, damselflies, bee’s, hoverflies and even ground beetles were needed to restore balance to my backyard. My plans were to extend my indoor herb garden to a full vegetable garden outdoors.
Back to the Farmer’s almanac to learn which bugs are good for your garden. Some are pollinators (bees, butterflies, flies, and moths) while others are predators (ladybugs, praying mantises, walking sticks, dragon flies, damselflies, and ground beetles). Granted we all would rather see less spiders, mosquitos, and other nuisance bugs around our homes so that we can enjoy the outdoors. Can we really achieve this without having to drench our yards with harmful chemicals that are not only toxic to the bugs but to our pets, ground water and can cause us respiratory problems?
Next, I purchased online 750 ladybugs for my backyard gardens. When the ladybugs arrived, they went to work munching to their hearts content all the aphids, thrips, and other invasive bugs they found. Munch away, you lovely little lady bugs! I was a bit skeptical about this approach because I never really thought that those small lady bugs would be effective. After releasing those lady bugs around the yard in problem areas, I stood back and watched them at work. Wow, they really do eat other bugs!
The local home improvement store was another place I visited. I went straight to the isles to look at the plants on sale. Here is where I found milkweed to help attract monarch butterflies, seed packets of sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias, daisies, calendula, cornflowers, dill, petunias, and other plants that attract bees and butterflies. If you want a more complete list of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers follow this link:
My dad donated tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers for a vegetable garden. He also offered advice on how to mix topsoil with organic fertilizer and sent me home with his portable rototiller to start my vegetable garden. That was a bit of a workout, but when completed I was quite pleased with the results.
Now, I stood back and waited somewhat patiently to see what would grow as I monitored the bug situation and my progress. Within a few months my vegetable garden matured, and I was sharing with my neighbors the extra produce. Bird feeders, bird baths and butterfly water bowls were added. Neighbors would stop and talk about all the daily bird visitors they were seeing. I claimed ownership to a cardinal couple and a loud woodpecker that reminded me when the feeders fell below her comfort level. The squirrels that romped and played in the trees now ran across my garden trellis as they snatched sunflowers to munch on.
I began this story with all the beneficial bugs I hoped I would be able to attract to my yard. Because I live in a southern state, our growing season is all year, so it did not take long to establish my gardens to provide the continual food supply that the bees and butterflies need. Other beneficial bugs may be more difficult to see, but surprisingly a praying
mantis decided to show up in the yard, so that let me know there were more out there. As I planted in the gardens, I found worms, grubs and ground beetles. I am into my third year of this gardening experiment and watch the dragon flies and damsel flies buzz around my yard each day, munching on those pesty mosquitoes and other flying pests. The variety of butterflies are amazing! And no more ground cover of grass spiders.
In addition to providing food for the birds, bird baths provide fresh water that is so important for their health as well. I learned that not only do the birds need water, but the butterflies, bees, and ladybugs do too. I installed bird baths and butterfly water stations to ensure they had fresh water daily. Here is an easy way to design bee watering stations. Anything can serve as a water bowl for your flying friends. By setting shallow bowls of water in the flower beads this allows the bees, butterflies, dragon flies, damsel flies and other flyers to safely drink each day. I believe in recycling, re-purposing and re-using items that may otherwise end up in one of our landfills.
My final thought for this post is to send this challenge out to you as you consider setting up a flower or vegetable garden. Take the Million Pollinator Challenge. By planting a garden, even if it is a few potted plants on your patio, you can support our pollinators and support our own health and survival. http://millionpollinatorgardens.org/?SC=XNET0279/