Protecting insects the next big thing in gardening
In Mark’s most recent book, The New Canadian Garden, he made the rather bold prediction that backyard hotels for insects and native bee habitats will be as common in Canada in 20 years as bird feeders are now. Say, what?
The idea of attracting ‘beneficials’ to your yard and garden is an idea that caught on in Great Britain a generation ago. Here, we are only beginning to wake up to the merit of it. Truth is, this can be a lot of fun, and kids love it too.
Take this novel idea for a Christmas present, as an example.
Last year, Mark made eight insect hotels for friends and family. Some seemed genuinely pleased to contribute towards a healthier level of biodiversity in their community, while others gave a look of utter astonishment, as to say, “Okay, now what do I do with THIS?”
What is it?
There are no rules for building insect hotels. Here are some general guidelines that will help get you on your way:
ROT AND DECAY ARE YOUR FRIENDS
Forget everything that you ever learned about hygiene and cleanliness…you are striving to create the perfect environment for overwintering insects through complete imperfection. This requires some grubbing around in your yard. Rotten wood (but not too rotten), pine cones, shredded newspaper, straw and the mature seed heads of most any perennial work just fine.
Under evergreens you will find small branches, decay and needles. Grab a few handfuls of this stuff as it has value to insects looking for a winter home. Come spring, some insects make love in your hotel and next thing you know there are little bugs running around your yard looking for a meal. This is a cyclical thing and it is all good.
CHICKEN WIRE OR HARDWARE CLOTH
Every hotel requires security measures. The big risk for insects that sequester in your new insect hotel are foraging birds. As much as we love songbirds, they are not at the bottom of the food chain. Rather, they are aggressive foragers and many of them love munching on insects. By sealing the duff material behind a layer of chicken wire or hardware cloth, you are providing security for the little creatures, where they can live and breed without something with a beak sticking it where it does not belong.
You need to provide protection for the material that you put in your insect hotel. A roof overhead is a good idea and some drainage holes drilled in the base of the unit.
Always provide some tubes for mason bees to lay their eggs. They will do this a couple of times during the gardening season and often late in fall, where they overwinter until spring when they hatch and produce flying progenies. You can use bamboo for this purpose, but make sure to smooth out the edges of the material at the entrance to the shoot. Or buy pre-made cardboard mason-bee tubes that are the precise length, calliper and smoothness for the bees to lay their eggs.
We will make you a bet: that you are the first person on your block to build an insect hotel in your yard. Neighbours and friends will think that you are nuts. And in a generation, you will be hailed as a visionary.
Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com. Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on twitter (@ MarkCullen4), facebook (facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and instagram (instagram.com/markcullengardening/).