Discover Natural Pest Control for Gardens Using Predators
Alternatives to Insecticides
Every day from various sources we hear how toxic many of the popular insecticides are to humans. This has left us with a dilemma, as we want to have a beautiful and bountiful garden but the bugs seemed hell bent on spoiling our plans.
This problem has sent people searching for alternatives which offer a natural solution. Whether you're gardening flowers or vegetables, the problem is the same unwanted insects. As soon as your seeds have sprouted your plants are at risk. You may notice when one or two plants have been chewed and the next day half are gone. Frustration sets in and you begin wondering why you even considered starting a garden in the first place.
Benefits of Natural Gardening
Stop and remind yourself why you opted to have a vegetable garden.
- You want healthier food for you and your family.
- You don't like GMO foods which are offered in store although not labeled, depending on where you live.
- You want to save money
- You want better-tasting food
Any or all of these are commendable reasons for starting a vegetable patch and to consider spraying insecticide on your precious crop, which you have spent so much time on, just seems wrong.
Restoring a balance using natural predators is much better than reaching for the bug spray. For many of us, we feel the need to grow things as winter falls away and spring begins. In our eagerness to get outside and till the soil, we forget that we need to work with nature and not against it. Take a step back and see how 'unnatural ' you have made your area. Let's assume Mother Nature knows what she is doing and it's only humans who have caused her system to fail. If your garden isn't natural you are leaving yourself wide open to an array of potential problems including insect infestation.
Best Birds for Pest Control
Birds are one of Mother Nature's greatest bug killers. I never appreciated how many insects are consumed by our resident birds until I stopped and watched them. I live in the northeast of Brazil and from the vantage point of my hammock, I watch a variety of birds. Their hunting techniques vary. Some such as the tropical kingbird dive at flying insects, catching them in mid-flight, with an audible clap of the beak. They eat an assortment of flying insects including butterflies.
The cattle tyrants, which look similar to the kingbird take insects from the ground. They are a common sight around cattle, hence the name. Here on our farm, they follow the mowers and other machinery waiting for an insect to be disturbed and attempt to fly to freedom. Little does the insect know that this opportunistic bird is waiting.
Another technique we see is used by a bird called a Guira Cuckoo. These birds often hunt in a group and look like a forensic team searching for clues, they make a line and walk across the grass in search of insects, lizards, and frogs.
Attracting birds to your garden will require a few things, plants, and trees where they can either roost or rest and available water. Putting up a bird feeder will not attract insect eating birds, only seed eaters.
Although hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers and feeders they will take small insects as well. Woodpeckers find their insects in trees and other small hidden areas. We have woodpeckers which pound on a metal lamp to scare up insects from between the lamp and the post. Although effective for the woodpecker, it sounds like a jackhammer.
These are the unsung heroes of the insect world. They are relentless and fearless in their pursuit of insects. The phrase, couldn't harm a fly does not apply to the preying mantis. Don't be fooled by its slender body, this is often just its camouflage which allows it to effectively hide from its prey until an insect is within striking distance. Using the front legs as a vice to hold its victim the preying mantis then begins to eat.
They will take both small and large insects, and even mice and snakes!
We have had preying mantis hatch on one of our palms on our patio. It is fascinating to watch and more importantly, they scatter into the yard. They are ruthless hunters and will help maintain a balance in a garden.
Keeping Spiders in the Garden
Since moving to the tropics, I have done an 180° turn in my attitude to spiders. I can't say I love them, especially not in the house, but I can now appreciate the excellent job they do. No one likes walking into a cobweb, feeling that sticky web stretched across their face, but these eight-legged friends do a sterling job in the garden. If you take the time to examine a cobweb, it's a work of art. Just as a fisherman casts his net out in the sea catching fish in that given area, the spider's web is a net secured between plants in your garden snagging the flying bugs which have the misfortune not to see the delicate snare.
Spiders are an easy and effective insect control in your garden. Don't kill them or knock down their webs, let them help you in the garden.
Insect Control Using Bats
If you've ever wondered why insects breed in the numbers they do, it is because many don't survive. When the birds go to roost, it's time for the bats. Bats gorge themselves nightly so they are an excellent animal to have around. Contrary to many reports on the internet, bats do consume mosquitoes but the estimate of 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour is wrong. If mosquitoes were the only insects available, then perhaps but bats eat a variety of small insects. If you have bats already they are exciting to watch as they twist and turn in mid flight to catch their prey.
The downside with having bats living in your barn or house is their feces smells and in many areas bats are protected and can't be removed. However for gardeners guano is an excellent fertilizer.
Not all bats eat insects, there are also fruit bats and even bats which eat fish. To bring bats into your garden, consider a bat box for them to roost.
How to Encourage Owls to Nest in Your Area
Here on our farm, we have a few different species of owls and boy can they eat insects. Like the bats, these nighttime visitors are hard at work when you are curled up in bed. They tirelessly munch their way through beetles and other insects. I think of them as the night time security guards over the garden. We often find pellets during the day which the owls have coughed up. These are full of insect casings and parts they couldn't digest. Owls will also take lizards, mice, and other small prey.
To encourage owls into your garden you can place nesting boxes up and if owls are in your area, they will likely get used.
Every night outside our dining room door we can hear an owl. We had an old coconut tree which fell over and to our amazement, two young owls rolled out. We took them in the house and kept them until they were ready to fly. I now think the one we hear nightly is one of those.
This box is the ideal size for them and positioned pointing away from the wind is a warm and cozy place for them to start the next generation.
Wasps Eat Caterpillars
I use to avoid wasps before I moved to our farm and am ashamed to say I knocked down their nests whenever possible. Once, with my sisters and cousins, we nearly burned my mother's house down trying to get rid of a wasp nest in a bush using a lighter and a can of hairspray. (I wouldn't recommend doing this). Now I have seen the error of my ways and although I don't go out of my way to befriend them, their nests are rarely removed until the larva has hatched. No, I haven't gone mad, I have simply realized how beneficial they can be to a garden or an organic farm. Like it or not, you should be encouraging wasps in your garden, as they too help with pest control.
If you have caterpillars eating your plants, wasps will seek them out and carry them back to their nests. They will push the caterpillars and small spiders inside the mud nest before sealing the nest. This will be a full meal for the young which will soon be hatching.
Below is a photo I took of a mud dauber wasp doing just this. It had built its mud dome on the wall of our house and brought back a caterpillar from our bougainvillea for its unhatched offspring.
Frogs and Toads
If you live near a body of water, you most likely will have frogs and toads. At night we can see the toads sitting under the light in the garden waiting for insects to fly too low. The toads hide up during the day coming out about 6 pm (local time). The ones who have hidden around our patio area, usually go for a dip first in the dog's water bowl. I guess it is the bath before they head off to work.
It is likely you have toads already in your garden, hiding under a shed or beneath undergrowth.
To bring frogs and toads to your area, keep a place which is overgrown so they can shelter from the heat of the day.
Do you encourage natural predators in your garden?
Lady Bugs for Aphid Control
The insects and animals I've listed are just a small portion of the beneficial wildlife you could begin to introduce. Let's not forget the humble little lady bug. These are fantastic at ridding a garden of aphids which can devastate many different plants in your garden. These tiny but beautiful beetles work tirelessly helping you maintain a pest free garden.