19 July 2012

Insect Habitat - build one for your garden


In the photo: YVC participants Zane Burleson, Kayla Russell, Catelynn Bradley, Mary Knack, Jaycee Gardner, Andrew Cunningham, Skye Dixon, Catherine Moses, Talon Watson, Bailey Tull, Dallas Juneil and staff  Sonya McJunkin, Lindsay Liszeski, Eileen VanKirk, Charley Walton.

Every spring gardeners find aphids on their plants. Some reach for a bottle of insecticide and others hope that lady bug beetles and parasitic wasps will fly in and dine on the aphids, eliminating the problem.

There are many other helpful insects. For example, ground beetles that hide in the weeds hunt insect eggs and caterpillars. Lacewings eat aphids, caterpillars, mealy bugs, leafhoppers, insect eggs, and whiteflies. Parasitic wasps attack aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, sawflies, scale insects and true bugs.

Insect Habitat ground floor
  With enough encouragement, beneficial insects can replace chemical and organic pest control methods.

Helpful insects include pollinators such as bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles, whose activity make fruit, vegetables and flowers possible by going from flower to flower to collect pollen and nectar.

In the spring, summer and fall, all these beneficial insects can be seen on flowers, in trees, on wet ground and around water sources. 

Gardens naturally attract helpful and harmful insects and gardeners can take a few steps to bring in more beneficials and keep them around.  Insect habitats can be created to provide a permanent home, ensuring the availability of predators to control potential problems. 

Last week, the students of Muskogee’s Youth Volunteer Corps built insect hotels to encourage insects to spend the winter close to the garden.  Insect hotels provides year-round shelter for lady bugs, frogs, toads, bees and other animals that help maintain a garden’s healthy biodiversity. And, the hotel makes a family-friendly, educational, nature-watching station.

  Building an insect hotel requires a level site in part-shade that is close to plants and water. The structure is basically several levels of wood or pallets separated by bricks and wood blocks. Each level is filled with insect habitat features such as leaves, sand, pine cones, flower pots, bundles of straws or bamboo canes, tree bark, straw, seed pods, twigs, and logs. The top can be covered with roofing tiles, plastic or roofing felt weighted down with crushed brick or hunks of concrete and drought tolerant plants.

 
The YVC students said that they learned a lot by building insect hotels, including the role of pollinators in providing our food and the natural role of predator insects in providing natural, organic garden-pest control.

The students talked about building insect hotels as science projects and in local community gardens to help those gardeners manage pest problems.



To build your own insect hotel, start with 4 bricks on the bottom. Try to find bricks with holes and put them on their side with the holes facing outward. (Thank you to Boral Bricks for donating the bricks needed for the YVC project.) An “H” shape of bricks can be filled with sand for frog and toad homes on the bottom level. (Directions we used are at http://tiny.cc/kr5dhw)



Place a piece of plywood, a pallet, or strips of wood on top of the bricks, fill that hotel floor with materials, then continue to build more hotel floors the same way.



Insects spend the winter in all stages of development:  Egg, nymph, caterpillar/larva and adult.  During periods of hibernation, they need the protection of plant materials, including hollow stems, such as daylily or poppy stems and similar materials.



The habitat built by the YVC students included small bundles of bamboo and drinking straws for leafcutter and mason bees, rolled up cardboard for native bees, and tree bark for bumble bees. Solitary bees will use the abandoned beetle burrows for their nests.


  Experiment with whatever you have around: Ladybugs nest in straw and small sticks. Larger bugs will live in twigs. Pine cones and small logs will become homes for other insects.

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