It was the dawn of a new day and the war raged on. The enemy was hatching its plans and its reserves when your flyers took them out. Sure, it sounds like a war, this gardening thing; and it is. You are at odds with legions of pests and parasites fighting over the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. You could use chemical warfare, the pesticides the factory farms use, but then you would be poisoning yourself and your family as well. You would also be setting the stage for worse problems in the garden later. When we use chemical pesticides, we do more than poison the pests attacking our plants. We poison the beneficial insects, the ground the plants are in and the subterranean life that maintains the soil.
The garden is its own little ecosystem with a balance of life forms and bacteria. Some of them are destructive to our plants; the caterpillar that eats the leaves, the borers that attack the fleshy meat of the fruits and vegetables and so forth. Others are on our side, feeding on those that would destroy our plants. Under the surface are the threats to the roots and the predators that protect them all the while aerating the soil and maintaining its quality.
Today, many home gardeners let beneficial insects do their dirty work. The best way to embark on this wonderful relationship is with a little planning and preparation. For example, the tiny trichogramma wasp, with a wingspan of approximately 1/50th of an inch, will attack and lay its eggs in more than 200 different species of moth and butterfly eggs. By doing so, it prevents garden-devouring caterpillars (larvae) from hatching and eating plant leaves. Sure, once a caterpillar hatches, a host of general feeders and parasites will go after it, but the trichogramma wasp is your first line of defense because it specifically targets the eggs.
A favorite with home gardeners and large scale growers, the ladybug, also called lady beetle, is one of the most popular beneficial insects. After a few days of feeding, the female ladybug will deposit her eggs in small yellow clusters under a plant leaf or on the stem. The amount of eggs laid depends on the pest population. In most cases, eggs are laid on or near plants infested with large numbers of aphids. Within 7-days the tiny eggs hatch into alligator shaped larvae, which quickly begin feeding on many soft-bodied pests, mites, and insect eggs. Within a month the larvae will pupate and one week later young adults will emerge, ready to feed. There are 1-2 generations per year, depending on weather conditions.
The common green lacewing is a widely used beneficial insect which naturally controls many different pests. The adult lacewing lays her eggs on the foliage, each on top of hair-like filaments. After a few days the eggs hatch and a tiny larvae emerges which is also known as the "aphid lion" because of its voracious appetite. Besides aphids, they feed on just about any soft-bodied pest they can "grab," including citrus mealy bugs, cottony cushion scale, spider mites, thrips, caterpillars, insect eggs, etc.
An important biological control, fly parasites are small parasitic wasps that attack and kill filth flies in their immature pupal stage and are very effective because they kill the pest before it can mature into a flying adult. Female parasites deposit their eggs inside the pest pupae and once hatched, the tiny fly parasite larvae consume the contents. Fly parasites are very aggressive and have a strong natural incentive to actively seek out fly pupae in order to reproduce. They will not bother humans or animals
Trichogramma are among the smallest insects, having a wingspread of about 1/50th of an inch. Despite its size, this parasitic wasp is an efficient destroyer of the eggs of more than 200 species of moths and butterflies which are leaf eaters in the larval stage. Trichogramma wasps seek out eggs, but do not feed on or harm vegetation. It is a particularly effective control agent because it kills its host before a plant can be damaged.
One of my favorites, the praying mantis gets its name from its motionless raised front legs, which it uses to hold its prey. A ferocious general predator, it will attack just about any insect in its path, which unfortunately includes other beneficial insects. For this reason, it’s not a good choice in a naturally protected garden.
In a moist dark environment, beneficial nematodes, also called insect parasitic nematodes, kill almost all pest insects. Therefore, these microscopic, worm like organisms are ideally suited to combat pests that attack plants in areas such as root zones, tree galleries, thatch of lawns, bark cracks, crown of plants and corn tassels. They will also work on insects that bore into wood, trees, and shrubs.
And the list goes on. I will make no attempt to suggest which are right for you and your garden; there are too many factors to consider. My best suggestion would be to get to know the staff at your local garden supply. They can better advise you on the proper choices based on crops and your area.
The purpose to all of this is to eliminate one more source of chemicals in your life. We are constantly exposed to a myriad of chemical and synthetic substances in our daily lives. Our only true defense is to eliminate them as a threat one by one.