The gardener’s helpers (or vice versa)

Many insects and other animals are valuable garden helpers

Some will naturally regulate ‘pest’ populations. Others are essential for pollination. And still others take an active part in the benthic life.

Let’s learn to recognize them (click on the text links in blue) and protect them to promote their presence in natural vegetable gardens, orchards and ornamental gardens.

Helpers in the garden, what are we talking about?

Let’s be clear: I’m using the terms of in this articleexcipients and from vermin… just to clarify my point.

But in reality, all living things participate in the balance of animal populations, either as predators or prey…and often both! So any animal deserves the title of garden helper.

And in reality it is us, the gardeners, the helpers… Animals are essential to life… While we humans strive to destroy it… And in the best case (a gardener who is worried about his environment), we only make a small contribution.

Having said that, here we are interested in the animals that play a predominant role in a permaculture garden.

Animal population auxiliary regulators

Auxiliary insects in the garden

ladybug in tall grass
The ladybug especially likes tall grass…

The ladybug is probably the first insect that every gardener thinks of when he talks about garden helpers… And it’s an unrivaled regulator of aphid populations for good reason! It also feeds on mites, psyllids, mealybugs, whitefly (a small whitefly mainly found in greenhouses)… A few carpets of nettles, perennials, tall grass, a pile of leaves or still cut plants with hollow stems the ground will shelter him and cover him all year.

Ground beetles also enjoy some fame as garden helper insects…at least as effective as ladybugs. Many caterpillars (especially codling moth), pinworms, snails and aphids are on this beetle’s menu. Hedges in the countryside, tall grass, dead leaves, piles of wood, old tree stumps (even rotten ones), piles of stones are all hiding places that can harbor these beetles.

Syrphid flies, although they look like small wasps, are flies… They feed on aphids (especially those neglected by ladybugs, such as the ash cabbage aphid… Nature has done right!). They overwinter in mulch, low grass, under leaves… and need good flowers to reproduce.

Lacewings, commonly referred to as “goldeye flies”, are insects fond of aphids, whiteflies, psyllids, mites, mealybugs, Lepidoptera eggs… Lacewings hibernate in shelter in buildings, on windows.

The earwig, more commonly known as the earwig, is an excellent predator that feeds on many insects at night… Let’s forget about the damage it can do to peaches (it pierces them…) or petals of certain flowers ( dahlia, gladiolus) … And let it have its place in the garden.

Pedal midges are small flies whose larvae feed on aphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies and mites. To accommodate them, keep grass strips and plant a hedge of various types.

Wasps, generally peaceful, if not disturbed, enjoy flying, aphids or even small caterpillars.

Some insects are rightly considered garden helpers, such as the famous policeman…

This list of auxiliary insects is far from exhaustive… Do not hesitate to add them in the comments (below the article).

The Vertebrates

frog, the gardener's helper
A pond will attract batrachians…

Batraches (frogs and toads) are particularly fond of snails and insect larvae… A simple basin, or better yet a pond, should quickly attract them.

Without going into details, the birds that visit the gardens (robins, finches, starlings, chickadees, sparrows, warblers, thrushes, blackbirds, etc.) effectively regulate the animal populations by feeding on grubs, small insects, etc. Hedges, diversified trees and shrubs (including some species with evergreen foliage in winter, as well as those that produce berries) will welcome many bird species.

Bats don’t make a fuss about it… They devour all kinds of night-flying insects and thus regulate the populations of codling moths, leaf rollers and leaf miners (for example the leek miner fly). Natural cavities or an open shed serve as shelter during the day.

hedgehog shelter
Shelter designed for a hedgehog (sorry…I don’t know who this photo is from…)

Hedgehogs are not only famous insectivores: they also feed on snails or small vertebrates. Piles of wood and dense hedges provide shelter.

Moles certainly feed on earthworms, but also on snails and underground insects (white grubs)… Don’t destroy their habitat!

Reptiles, such as grass snakes or slowworms, regulate the populations of snails, caterpillars, larvae, small rodents… They are harmless to humans… Preserve natural shelters: piles of wood, brush, tall grass, mulch, stones…

Pollinating excipients

foraging bee
Bees enjoy blooms spread throughout the year…

Bees and bumblebees play an essential role in pollination in the garden (essential for fruit formation, etc.).

To these regular pollinators, let’s add butterflies, ladybugs, hoverflies, lacewings, birds… which, by moving from plant to plant, also actively participate in the dispersal of pollen…

Plant honey plants to attract maximum help pollinators to your garden.

Essential auxiliaries for soil life

Animals are not only useful as a population regulator or pollinator… Some are also essential for soil life (conditio sine qua non for a healthy and productive natural vegetable garden…).

These are mainly earthworms and moles. These animals will aerate and enrich the soil with their excrement. Ants also play an important role as recyclers of corpses.

We have seen some concrete examples of shelters that can specifically house this or that help.

But let’s not limit ourselves to ladybugs, for example… On the contrary, let’s work on maximum diversity:

Preserving biodiversity

The first condition for the installation of tools in the garden is simply biodiversity…

Start by banning (if you haven’t already) all chemicals from your garden!

Also, avoid using insecticides… even organic ones. They kill… and thereby create imbalances.

And don’t try to make your garden “spotless”… That may be so in your eyes… but not for animal life. So, even if you want a “well-maintained” garden, keep at least some wild areas… Keep an old log, a hollow stump…

Hospitable garden helpers

In addition to existing biodiversity, we can also take action to promote the installation of tools in our gardens:

  • Plant hedges of different local species;
  • Dig a pond;
  • Leave a few heaps of wood and branches here and there;
  • Make piles of bricks or build a brick wall (not grouted);
  • Plant perennials for winter shelter;
  • Plant flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruit trees… In short, diversify your crops as much as possible;
  • Instead, prefer a carpet of spontaneous grass to a beautiful, perfectly manicured lawn;

Possibly install nest boxes and insect hotels… Well, the few non-actions (to preserve the existing biodiversity) and actions that precede it will normally be enough to house our “helpers”… who don’t really need us…

Should we “artificially” introduce adjuvants into the garden? That’s another question I’m trying to answer here.