By Catherine Winter
Many people gripe and moan about the insects they have to contend with, but not all bugs are equal when it comes to benefitting (or harming) your plants. Vital pollinators like bees and butterflies deserve our respect and appreciation, while aphid-eating ladybugs and mosquito-devouring dragonflies are powerful allies for organic pest control. By creating an insect “hotel” and setting it up near your food garden, you can provide a wonderful shelter for your local insect allies so they can keep working hard amongst your food plants.
This is a great weekend project to dive into during this nebulous time between winter and springtime. Snow’s still on the ground and we won’t be able to get seeds into the ground for a little while yet, but those of us who are champing at the bit to do garden-ish things can focus our energy on creating one of these in prep for the growing season ahead.
What You’ll Need:
- A large, open wooden box
- Rolled-up tubes of paper
- Hollow reeds or bamboo, cut to fit the depth of your box
- Large wood chips or strips of bark
- Dry straw or small sticks
- Solid wooden blocks with “bee holes” drilled into them, if desired. (Remember that different bee species have specific preferences for both their eggs, and shelter. Leafcutter bees like 1/4″ wide and 2 1/2 -4″ deep holes, while mason bees like theirs to be 6″ deep, 5/16″ wide. Don’t drill all the way through the block: bees need warmth, not drafts.)
- Eco-friendly, natural glue*
*Note: If you’d prefer not to use any kind of glue, you can just arrange everything loosely and then secure thin-gauge chicken wire over the front of the box. This will keep all the sundry bits in place, and the insects will have no problem getting through the wire mesh.
Decide how you’re going to arrange your hotel ahead of time by drawing some thumbnail sketches. If you’ve created a drilled bee box, glue that into place first: it’s a lot easier to work around that behemoth than to try to mash it in to fit later.
Once that’s done, glue items into place around it, ensuring that they’re held together quite firmly, but that there’s enough room for air to circulate. Using different materials means that a variety of species will be able to find nooks that are best suited to their needs.
Cultivating a relationship with the beneficial insects in your area is a vital aspect of sustainable permaculture: the goal is to encourage your land to function in the most harmonious, holistic manner possible, and insects are imperative for a healthy, self-regulating ecosystem. For example, parasitic wasps annihilate tomato hornworms, cabbage moth larvae, whiteflies, and many caterpillar species.
You’ll draw the most beneficial species to your garden by planting indigenous wildflowers in and around your space, as well as along the periphery. Although exotic plants are beautiful, local insects are most adapted to native flowers. For example, Queen Anne’s lace is indigenous to your area, plant that for parasitic wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.
Before you know it, you’ll have countless new visitors helping out with your vegetables and herbs, and those lucky critters will have a gorgeous villa to go home to after a hard day’s work.