Why I don’t panic about “infestations” of insects

Why I don’t panic about “infestations” of insects

This week, while checking on my newly planted willows, I spotted a rather flashy beetle on many of the plants:-

I’ll admit, my first instinct was to squish the little critters, but once I’d established what they were (blue willow beetles) and that they are not a pest that is a biosecurity threat (like Japanese beetle, for example), I came back to my senses and left them on the plants. I will keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t strip my willows of all their leaves, but I am sure that if they start to get out of control, the birds that frequent my flower patch looking for lunch will deal with them for me.

This is the essence of farming in a nature-friendly way; by not spraying with pesticides every time I see a pest I don’t like, I will encourage a balance of wildlife that will support the food web around my flower patch and hopefully add to the biodiversity of the area. If I were to spray, killing the beetles, I would also kill any ladybird larvae which have overwintered in the stems of my plants. This would mean there is nothing to take care of the aphids that will inevitably arrive once the weather warms up and plants put on new, sappy growth. I would then also have to treat those plants with insecticides.

The cascade of issues doesn’t stop there; insecticides also kill off life in my soil. As any regenerative farmer or gardener knows, the soil is the key to healthy plants and strong growth. Healthy soil is teeming with microbes and insects which support plants to gather the water and minerals they require. The better my soil, the more and better the blooms I will be able to grow.

This is not to say that I wouldn’t intervene if pests get out of control - a well-aimed jet from the hosepipe will dislodge quite a few aphids! And when lupin aphid strikes, I do spray with a mix of water, eco-friendly washing up liquid and vegetable oil. This keeps these insects from killing my lovely lupins as they do sometimes multiply too quickly for birds and other predators to be able to control them. I also use beer traps to control the slugs in my greenhouse, wheee there are no predators to predate them.

As always, the best option is to aim for prevention, rather than cure. A top tip to achieve this is to plant a sacrificial plant, which is more attractive to pests than my crops. Here is the “skeleton” of a nasturtium leaf from my flower patch last year. 

As you can see, the caterpillars have made short work of it. What you can’t see in this picture is the plants around the nasturtium which are free of caterpillars!

Over time, I have learnt to overcome my instinct to exterminate the pests I find in my flower patch and rather, enjoy the biodiversity that this approach brings. 

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