Word from the Farm: The Benefits of Beneficials

By Farah Masani

Whether you are planting a backyard garden or establishing a field, there are two things you must think about – beneficial plants and beneficial insects. Beneficial plants are plants that require minimum care, like spraying, trimming, watering, and otherwise maintaining. Similar to a wild meadow, this assortment of plants creates an appropriate habitat for good insects while also benefiting the environment. Also called insectaries, beneficial plants are varieties that attract and invite a diversity of beneficial insects.

Parasitic wasp eggs on a tomato hornworm. When the eggs hatch they will eat the hornworm before the it destroys the tomatoes. A perfect example of how a “good bug” eats a “bad bug”.

Beneficial insects are “good bugs” that you want in your garden because they benefit the garden by eating the “bad bugs”.  They are the natural enemies to bad bugs with the added benefit of pollination.  Think lady bugs, lady beetles, lace wings, ground beetles, spiders (even though they are technically not insects) bees, wasps, praying mantis, and butterflies.

Having beneficial insects is a long-term, effective, non-toxic way to get rid of pests that can eat and destroy your crops.  While the use of pesticides can be effective in getting rid of the “bad bugs”, they also kill the “good bugs” in the process. Continuous use of pesticides can also create insects with a resistance to them and is harmful to human beings, our pets and the environment.

To attract beneficial insects, I recommend choosing a section or multiple sections of your garden close to your crops and planting a haven that will foster and promote the growth of good bugs.  You’ll be creating a meadow of sorts, where the insects will be comfortable with plenty of food (nectar and pollen). In this beautiful space, without a care in the world, they can focus on doing what they do best– pollinating your plants, eating and ultimately killing the unwanted bugs in your garden, and most importantly, procreating so their offspring can do the same.

This created meadow or insectary of beneficial plants can consist of  sunflowers, zannias, marigolds, yarrow, lavender, mint, basil, mustard, fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, amaranth, clover, thyme, lemon balm, and chamomile – all of which are aromatic, have beautiful flowers and grow at different heights, thus attracting good bugs. Creating a multi-dimensional, layered meadow, growing at different heights, is important because some good bugs like to live on plants that are low to the ground, some in bushes, and some like to be up high.  In addition,  most of these above-mentioned plants self seed, can be eaten or brewed into a tea and have some medicinal qualities, therefore making them even more beneficial.

Next week, I’ll share my love affair with one such beneficial plant.  One with which I have had a love affair since I was a little girl in India. A beneficial plant that you can eat every part of, and make teas and drinks from. A plant that has medicinal applications and what’s best is that it is a weed deterrent! Any guesses?

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