Farming With Native Beneficial Insects: Ecological Pest Control Solutions

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

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The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that “protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.”  A leader on pollinator conservation, their book, Attracting Native Pollinators, is an indispensible guide to creating pollinator-friendly landscapes.  Their latest book, Farming with Native Beneficial Insects: Ecological Pest Control Solutions, deserves a place on your bookshelf too, even if you aren’t a farmer.

Farming with Native Beneficial Insects makes the case that native beneficial insects have been critical partners in successful agricultural systems for thousands of years, but now need our help.  Modern day farming and landscaping practices have caused large declines in the populations of many beneficial insects.  By developing and conserving the habitats needed by beneficial insects, the authors tell us we can improve ecosystems overall.  The book is a tool not just for organic farmers, but also for conventional farmers and home gardeners.

A collaborative effort, the book was written by several Xerces Society staff members including, Eric Lee-Mader, Jennifer Hopwood, Lora Morandin, Mace Vaughn and Scott Hoffman Black.  In keeping with other Xerces books, this is a visually appealing work with helpful photos, laid out in a highly readable and accessible fashion – you can jump from one chapter or subject to another and zero in on exactly the information you need.  It would be shame, however, to skip any chapter or section, since all of the information is interesting and useful.

The book’s content is divided into 6 parts: 1) Beneficial Insect Ecology, 2) Improving Beneficial Insect Habitat, 3) Managing Beneficial Insect Habitat, 4) Common Beneficials and Their Kin, 5) Plants for Conservation BioControl and 6) the Appendix.

The first part of the book explains what beneficial insects are and why they are important.  There are tables with detailed information on some of the beneficial players including: common predators, common parasitoids, and other common beneficial arthropods.  Also included – their typical prey, egg-laying sites, shelter needs, and supplementary food sources.  Of note, the authors explain why introducing exotic beneficials is not the best idea.   The benefits of farming with beneficials are detailed and a useful habitat checklist is provided.

Part two includes chapters on how to improve beneficial insect habitat – from designing new habitat to establishing field borders, insectary strips, hedgerows, cover crops, beetle banks, etc.  Next is a section on how to manage beneficial insect habitat, including alternatives to pesticides, pesticide selection “if you must use pesticides” and reducing pesticide impacts.  Long-term habitat management, so often an afterthought, is also covered.

A detailed section provides full pages with comprehensive information on common beneficial insects, and related species, such as Assassin Bugs, Green Lacewings, Soldier Beetles, Tachinid Flies, and even non-insect beneficial predators like Harvestmen (Daddy Longlegs).

The 5th section of the book is the one that will be highly appealing to gardeners – this section suggests some of the best plants to support beneficial insects, covering certain species of native wildflowers, flowering trees and shrubs, native grasses, cover crops and non-native insectary plants.  The last section is an appendix with helpful resources and references.

Farming with Native Beneficial Insects: Ecological Pest Control Solutions is unique in its approach to beneficial insects and provides enough practical information to make it a must-read for any commercial farmer, backyard farmer, or ecologically-minded gardener, which should include all of us!

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

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