It’s May and Summer’s definitely on the way. The sun’s coming out more regularly and the air is starting to fill with the sound of small, beating wings. It’s the time when we realise that our insect life has really woken up – though, in reality, much of it has been awake for some time.
If you’re out in your garden regularly, which you should be at this time, you’ll be aware of the many different bees droning around the fruit blossom and flowers in your garden. Bees are among my favourite insects and I can sit and watch them for hours – fascinating creatures that always seem to be busy. There are several hundred different types of bee resident in the UK, broadly split into two groups – social bees and solitary bees. The best known of our social bees are the honeybees, that live in colonies totalling many thousands and the bumblebees, that are also social bees but live in much smaller colonies. Solitary bees may also live in colonies but they lack the social structure of the honey and bumble bees. Of course, the key thing about all our bees is that they are great pollinators and a healthy bee population is a sign of a healthy garden
Other insects like hoverflies, hornet moths and clearwing moths, mimic the colours of bees so they don’t get eaten and many of these are also useful pollinators.
Of course, not all insects are good news for gardeners and I’m sure many of you are thinking about the greenfly and blackfly that are going to descend on your prize plants in the coming months – but help is at hand if you encourage the right wildlife into your garden.
If you’ve got a small pond then you have a good chance of attracting Damsel and Dragonflies. Dragonflies like the beautiful Broad Bodied Chaser are major insect predators. Flying mainly in May and June (though they’re around from late April through to September) these masters of the air are particularly fond of gnats, midges and mosquitos but they’ll attack any small insect on the wing and can be a real asset in a small garden.
The other great six legged pest controller is the humble ladybird. The Coccinellidae, or Ladybirds as we know them, are a family of small beetles, ranging from 0.8 to 18 mm. In the UK they are commonly bright red with black spots, though you can also see yellow or orange varieties. Often referred to as “nature’s own pest controllers” they have voracious appetites and feed mainly on aphids and scale insects. Ladybirds lay their eggs in Aphid colonies and as soon as the larvae hatch they start to feed. In the course of its short, three to six week larval stage a single ladybird may eat as many as 5,000 aphids. Well worth having in the garden. We have some 46 species of Ladybird native to the UK, though sadly they are under threat from the larger Harlequin Ladybird (originally from Asia the Harlequin was introduced into Europe for pest control purposes but it has put native species into decline and is now viewed as something of a pest).
The main thing to remember about the insects in your garden is that many of them are very necessary, whether as pollinators or for natural pest control. Pesticides aren’t discriminating – they kill the good insects as well as the bad, so it’s better to build a natural, healthy garden that almost manages itself when it comes to pest control. Along with our six legged friends remember that feeding birds regularly encourages them into your garden – and many bird species eat a wide range of insects. And if you have a problem with slugs – and which gardener doesn’t have a problem with slugs – newts, toads, slow worms and hedgehogs will all be happy to contribute to their removal.