Homeschool Garden Club - Attract Beneficial Insects into Your Garden
We have chosen Butter flies as our animal of focus this year. This means we will continue with our focus on bring bees in to our gardens but laying on top of that with beneficial insect strategies. Although the weather this week is not really conducive to thinking about warm days observing these tiny fascinating creatures, we are looking forward. Well done, to everyone who contributed to the discussion and put forth your ideas in the debate.
Here at our Homeschool Garden Club we understand just how much nature does a lot to pollinate our fruits and vegetables set seed and by providing a legion of beneficial insects to prey on pests. It's impossible to measure just how valuable these insects are in keeping things ticking over on the productive plot but we need to acknowledge we are hugely indebted to them!
When I started learning to garden and growing for the kitchen, garden books had whole chapters on how to get rid of the insects found within the garden. Rather than wipe out both pest and predator gardeners nowadays garden books encourage us to strike a balance in the kitchen garden, nurturing the beneficial creatures so that they in turn take care of the undesirables. Making an insect hotel is a great way of achieving this.
An insect hotel offers accommodation to its occupants. In return, when it's time to check out they'll be right on site to go about their pollination and pest predation – a beautifully symbiotic relationship. The good news is it costs nothing to make an insect hotel, just a little time and effort. Invertebrates aren't fussy as long as they have got somewhere to bed down and lay their eggs, so you can go as elaborate or simple as your tastes permit.
Why Make Your Own?
While ready-made insect hotels are available to buy – they cost money and that is something we are looking not so spend. It is far better to make your own bespoke hotel because you can use salvaged or recycled materials to build the walls and roof of your hotel – old shelving planks, drinks bottles, pallets, pipes, you name it.
Now at the start of the autumn we can start looking out for free materials like sticks, twigs, stems and old or broken bamboo sticks to build a Insect hotel before the half term.
Making a Insect Hotel to Attract Beneficial Insects
The simplest structure is a wooden box open at one end and stuffed with the material that your insect will bed down in. Make sure your hotel is watertight so its residents don't get a drenching after every downpour. Tiles, offcuts of felt or corrugated roofing are some of the options for weatherproofing. You can make lots of small hotels or one major high-rise
Different types of insect will prefer different room furnishings. If your hotel is big enough you can mix and match, using different materials within each layer or section. Try one or more of the following materials.
Drilled wood: Solitary bees and wasps are attracted to holes drilled into wood as they offer the perfect place to lay their eggs in peace. Drill holes of different sizes, between 5mm (0.2in) and 10mm (0.4in) diameter so as to offer spaces for different species. You can use some left over wood from out Design and Technology projects and from the recycled pallets we use to make raised beds with.
Rotting logs: Perfect for wood-boring beetles whose larvae will feast on the decaying wood. Place at the base of your hotel so the logs stay nice and damp and mix with other decaying plant matter to attract centipedes (which devour slugs) and other woodland litter insects such as millipedes and woodlice (which will provide a welcome source of food for birds). This is also a great spot for garden spiders.
Twigs, sticks and stems: Bundled together, sticks and twigs of different sizes offer welcome lodgings for ground beetles. These beetles chomp away at many of the pests that hinder our crops, including aphids and carrot root fly larvae. You'll also be offering a vacancy to ladybirds (or ladybugs to our North American Homeschool learner), which hoover up aphids and nuisance insects such as mites. Hoverflies will also be attracted to this type of material. Hoverflies are both pollinator and pest patroller – the larvae carry an insatiable appetite for aphids while the adults feed on nectar as they pollinate flowers.
Bamboo canes: Hollow stems such as bamboo canes provide another hidey hole for solitary bees, who will lay their eggs then seal up the hole using mud or leaf litter.
Straw, dried grass or rolled up cardboard: Just the material for a cosy lacewing hangout. While lacewings may be beautifully intricate to look at, they are truly the gardener's best friend, devouring aphids and other pests such as scale insects, many types of caterpillar and mites. Place your straw or cardboard inside an old open-ended plastic bottle to prevent it turning soggy.
Now Siting your Insect Hotel
It's all very well building a handsomely equipped insect hotel but for it to become the destination of choice it has to be in prime position. Set your hotel up in a sheltered area of the garden or allotment away from the prevailing wind. Most insects prefer slightly damp conditions but solitary bees demand the sunniest aspect possible to help them get out and about on a cold day. Your hotel will become fully occupied quicker if it is located close to an existing insect hotspot: a hedge, bank of nectar-rich flowers or a pond, for example.
Don't limit your insect-attracting ambitions to just one hotel. Remember that as well as helping the gardener out, insects support animals higher up the food chain, which will in turn go on to help us out. Log piles left in out-of-the-way corners, wildflowers sown around the perimeter of your productive plot, or a small pond are just a few of the other ways you can help. By doing so you'll be enriching the local ecosystem and ensuring your garden is as productive as it can be.