Beneficial Insects for Hydroponics, part 1

Usually when we think of insects on our plants we think of pests. Well that’s with good reason, a lot of them are. But that’s not always the case, not all insects are pests. There are a wide variety of beneficial insects. Most people know that bees pollinate their plants, but other insects help pollinate them as well. More importantly beneficial insects also help to reduce the populations of insects that are harmful to your plants, and without hurting your plants. The use of beneficial insects reduces the need for pesticides in your gardens, simply because they are the natural predators of the harmful insects (pests). That makes them a natural and organic alternative to pest control.

How effective beneficial insects are to your plants will have many factors. One of the biggest factors is how bad the infestation is. You can buy beneficial insects from a suppler, or you could just try to attract them to your garden. Either way you want them to stick around, the best way to do this is by providing the proper habitat to support the beneficial insects. They will then feed and reproduce more, that will have a greater impact on the health of your gardens. Unfortunately as the beneficial insects feed on and reduce the population of the pests, this reduces their food sources, so naturally unless alterative sources of food are provided, they will leave the area in search for food elsewhere.

Attracting  beneficial insects
Just like animals and humans, insects are looking for a place to live comfortably, breed and prosper. They also need shelter, water and food to be happy. Weather you buy your beneficial insects or simply try to attract them to your yard, you will want to provide a suitable environment to keep them their. They will want protection from disturbances. Providing perennial flower beds add hedges around your plants can provide a good source of shelter. They will also need water just like any other living thing. Small Tupperware containers with some water placed around the shelter areas will be able to provide a water source. Place some rocks and twigs inside it so the beneficial insects have a place to rest while there drinking. Also you will want to change the water a couple of times a week to keep mosquito’s from breeding.

When the beneficial insects have reduced the populations of the pests they feed on, and their main food source is diminishing, they will naturally want to move on in order to find a more plentiful source of food. By providing an alternate food source you can help encourage them to stick around. Depending on the particular insect they can find food sources with pollen, plant juices and/or nectar to supplement their diet of insects.

Types of Beneficial Insects

Ladybugs (also known as Lady Beetles), are one of the most popular and recognizable  beneficial insects around. What isn’t commonly known is that there are over 500 species of Ladybugs, and they aren’t all red, nor do all of them have the well known spots. But all species of adult ladybugs have a oval dome shape, as well as have small legs. They also have wings that fold back as part of their dome body shape.  The wings are usually a dark red, or reddish-orange, to a pale yellow. They also may or may not have black spots, or irregular shaped markings.

Both the adults and young feed on many different soft bodied insects. They mostly feed on aphids, but are also good for controlling whiteflies, leafhoppers, potato beetle, mites, mealy bugs and bollworms among others. There are a few ways to attract them to your garden. They are attracted to dill, fennel, geraniums, also weeds such as dandelions, wild carrot and yarrow will help attract ladybugs.  You can also attract ladybugs using something called “Wheast“, witch is a combination of “Whey” and “Yeast,”  this can be mixed and then sprayed in your garden to attract the ladybugs. You can either make it yourself, or buy it from a vendor.

Praying Mantis (Mantodea), the Praying Mantis is one of the most efficient insect predictors as far as beneficial insects are concerned. They feed on a wide variety of insects, and will eat just about any insect they can, even as large as moths, crickets and grasshoppers. They will even eat there own kind. They will eat almost any insect smaller than itself. They lie in wait with the front legs in an upraised position, and intently watch and stalk their prey. They can get as large as 3 to 4 inches long and use camouflage to ambush their prey. There is an estimated 1800 species of  Praying Mantis, each with their own type of camouflage, but they all have the same type of posture.

The Praying Mantis is a large alien-looking creature that most people find the intimidating to say the least, and much like spiders they are generally afraid of them simply because of the way they look. But the Praying Mantis is probably the best beneficial insect you can have in your gardens. They also will not bite humans, damage household furnishings, spread disease or damage your plants. Not sure what more you could ask for.

Useful Links
Lady Bugs
Lady Beetles
Lady Beetles Colorado state university
Lady Beetles university of Kentucky

Praying Mantis
Praying mantises Care
Praying Mantid caresheet
Beneficial Insects in the Garden, Praying Mantis
Praying Mantid, University of Kentucky

Continued: Beneficial Insects part 2

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