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September 21, 2018 September 21, 2018

Bugs have a valuable role to play

Posted on July 18, 2018 by Mark and Ben Cullen

Humans do an excellent job of demonizing insects. Think of the number of times you have heard “I hate ants!” or replace the word ants with mosquitoes (they sting), aphids (they eat my roses), caterpillars (creepy) and of course wasps (who could possibly like wasps?).
There are a growing number of people who love them all. We think these people are generally well-informed and enlightened. Alexander Humboldt, the world’s first environmentalist, wrote more than two centuries ago that all living things are interdependent, “a web,” he called it. Nature is made up of flora and fauna that support each other through an intricate system of eating, lodging, love making and procreation.
Humans play a major part in the web of nature. Note, we are a part of it, we don’t control it. Though, sometimes we may think we do.
Recently, the Royal Horticultural Society, a not-for-profit organization, financed a study called “RHS Plants for Bugs.” The goal was to determine the extent to which “native” plants attract pollinators vs. those from other parts of the world. The study concluded that native plants from the U.K. and other plant species from the Northern Hemisphere are most beneficial to pollinating insects. In other words, pollinators are attracted to pollen and nectar-rich flowering plants regardless of their origin (though plants from the southern hemisphere fared less well).
It also concluded that biodiversity is sustained and enhanced best when garden plants are planted densely, close together.
Helen Bostock, RHS Senior Horticultural advisor, states, “An abundance of bugs of all types equates to a healthy garden ecology.”
Why bugs?
Ants provide the special service of enabling raw, organic matter like wood and fallen leaves to break down into carbon and soil as they munch through them.
Aphids are food for visiting song birds, especially finches and nut hatches. The nominal amount of damage that aphids do to roses and other garden plants does not qualify us to shoot the poor things with insecticides on first sight.
Caterpillars are like aphids, providing food for foraging cedar wax wings and robins. To a robin, an earth worm and a caterpillar are about the same tasty thing.
Wasps, believe it or not, are members of the bee family and are pollinators for many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. True, they are a nuisance and can be a health hazard, but treated with respect, it is possible to live with them.
Mosquitoes are life-giving supporters to our native bat and insectivore bird population. The tree swallows that give us a thrill each spring and summer in our own gardens would simply not exist if mosquitoes were gone.
Biodiversity
The word biodiversity is a result of combining the words biological and diverse. Many gardeners today make it a goal to create outdoor spaces that are biologically-diverse. That is, they plant and design their garden using methods that do not harm nature while attempting to enhance it.
You can do this too, by adding native plants to your landscape, flowering plants that attract pollinators, leaving fallen leaves on the ground (but not your lawn) each autumn and a couple of insect hotels to attract myriad insects including mason bees.
Look for mason bee “hotels” where bird feeders are sold. With more than 700 native bee species in Canada you will be providing a great service to the community of nature.
The community of nature! That is what exists outside of your back door or on your condo balcony. That is, if you invest some effort to make it so.
The United Nations deemed this decade, from 2010 to 2020, the “Decade of Biodiversity.” While we may be a little late coming to the table, there is no time like today to commit ourselves to the enhancement and protection of the natural world around us.
As Bostock says, “The abundance of all bugs of all types equates to a healthy garden ecology.”
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.

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