Bees, Bugs & Biodiversity
Have you ever sat and watched the living activity going on in your garden?
I’m talking about the insects, birds and the creatures that make up some of the biodiversity in your living ecosystem.
Many of the insects in our gardens are working hard to protect the garden. However, they can be harmed by our actions—even our attempts to tackle problems we perceive concerning our garden’s health.
Our garden’s biodiversity is extremely sensitive to our actions, and needs to be handled with great care. Below we look at a number of things worth bearing in mind when taking any action in your garden.
To begin with, a thorough knowledge of any chemical you intend to use is not just wise but a legal requirement. This will require reading and fully understanding all the label discloses and the Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS), to ensure we safely handle the chemical, and use it as per the legislative requirement. If you don’t fully understand the label or MSDS, seek advice first before undertaking any spraying.
Protecting our Predatory Insects and Bees
Even spraying an organic chemical like Pyrethrum, that is extracted from the pyrethrum daisy, is very poisonous. Plus, since it’s not selective, it not only kills the targeted pest, but also kills the good predatory insects that you want alive in your garden. In other words, Pyrethrum is only a last-line-of-defence option—and even then, try spot-spraying affected areas, rather than blanket-spraying the whole tree or shrub. This will help prevent collateral damage to the good insects. Also check the label before spraying and see how long the spray is toxic to wildlife. You may need to spray late in the day to avoid the off-target killing of bees and bird life. Find out from the label, if the chemical is toxic to aquatic species; it would be horrible to wipe out all the fish in your nearby garden fish pond!
If spray must be used, don’t spray during the day when bees are active, as you could kill them. Or worse, kill the hive (or effect the health of the hive) with the spray.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Integrated Pest Management, also called Integrated Pest Control, is the use of a combination of actions that provide proactive and remedial solutions to stopping or reducing the problem, rather than merely reverting to chemicals every time.
Take for example, the control of weeds. Some weeds have reached the stage of nearly seeding off, while some are at an earlier stage of growth. For this, I could use several forms of control.
My first stage would be to hand weed the plants close to seeding off, preventing the spread of more seed. Then I’d cultivate the ground where the smaller weeds are growing, mulching over the top. These actions improve my soil, and control the weeds. I could then follow up with a spray after new seeds have germinated.
A valuable way of controlling pests and diseases on your trees and plants is by improving your soil health, thus improving plant health. We will talk more about soil in upcoming blog articles.
Management of tree and plant health is also a good practice to consider. Removing decaying fruit, leaves that have dropped or disease-affected plant material quickly is effective in reducing ongoing problems in the garden. Pruning to prevent tree branches rubbing together or making contact with the ground is important, and ensuring the dead, dying or decaying wood is removed from a tree, will all have a positive impact on the tree’s health.
If you have snail problems, you may think about encouraging lizards into your garden as they are great snail eaters. You can do this by providing water and building in protection for them in the form of pipes, or other hiding places for them. In a small acreage farm setting, a Kakki Campbel duck or a Guinea Fowl will take care of your snail problem for you.
Economic Threshold and Biodiversity
Here’s the question to keep front of mind: What’s the cost of not treating the problem versus what damage will be done if I do treat it?
Here’s an example. I have apples on my property and do not spray for codling moth. Because they are not planted in a monoculture orchard setting, but rather are part of a diverse planting of many different species of trees, I usually get 1% damage to my apples at worst. I can still use those apples by cutting out the little bit of damage. Therefore, I would not consider spraying to improve my crop yield, at the risk of killing off the good bugs, and producing food that is not clean organic.
If I did have problems with my apples getting codling moth, I would not just blast the spray on to the tree. I would again consider all the methods of control: pheromone traps, wrapping a bag around the trunk of the tree soaked in pyrethrum, or hosing the canopy of the tree when the moth is at a critical stage, for instance. Biological treatments of myelitis insects have also proven effective.
It is clear to see, there are better alternatives to harsh chemical controls that affect the balance of our delicate ecosystem.
A Healthy Garden Ecosystem
How can you affect your garden ecosystem positively? Here are a few thoughts…
Avoid planting in a monoculture-type fashion. Instead, intentionally plant diversity with flowering plants, ornamentals, native and fruiting species.
Research plants that encourage birds, bees and butterflies. Select different height plants to create canopy trees, middle size and ground cover. Try to incorporate herbaceous species that produce nice aromas, and profuse flowering.
Remember bees are one of your main agents of pollination, so research plants that are a good source of food. Bees need large amounts of carbohydrates and smaller amounts of protein. They get this from nectar and pollen. A great example of a flowering plant is an Echium. This is an amazing plant as it contains all the amino acids, protein and fat essential for a healthy bee population.
Bees also need plenty water to function properly, so a water source in your garden would be a sure way to attract them. You should strategically place the water in a position that keeps the traffic out of your way. Check out AgriFutures Australia’s excellent guide entitled, Bee Friendly: A planting guide for European honeybees and Australian native pollinators.
Alternative Organic Treatments
There are many organic alternatives to using chemicals in your garden.
One of my favourite products is eco-oil, a great product for use on citrus trees for the control of citrus leafminer (the bloke that chews all your new growth off), white fly and other chewing and sucking insects, but not harmful to the good team.
It is also great for use on your green leaf veggies, and can be mixed with your own home-grown sprays, such as tomato leaf spray, chili capsicum or garlic spray, as a spraying sticker for them.
Another amazing product is eco-neem. This organic chemical is only registered for use on ornamental trees and shrubs at the moment, and it is a chemical that needs to be understood by the user—as it is not a knock-down chemical and works in a very different way to what we have been used to.
Eco-neem is a chemical extracted from the neem tree. This chemical stops the insect from eating or breeding. The idea is that if you stop it eating and breeding you have stopped the cycled of damage, but the insect is still there as food for predatory insects. How clever! And all worked out here in Australia by our very own Organic Crop Protectants.
Well, I hope this has given you a bit of insight into the valuable assets in your garden, assets that need to be treated with care. If even a small amount of what I have shared is implemented, who knows, you may find that you’ll have some new visitors in your garden very soon.