Who says insects are scary? Not the kids at 24th St Elementary! In fact, the kids here have learned and continued to model that insects are friends to the garden and an important part of our ecosystem. There are insects that people consider pests (they eat our produce and damage the plants) and there are insects we call beneficials (they eat the pests and keep them under control, among other things). The garden lessons inevitably highlight insects, whether the Kindergarteners are going on a bug hunt or the fifth graders are learning about ecosystems. There is no way to avoid insects, and you shouldn't want to!
Here at 24th St Elementary, we love insects—so much that we actually do things to lure them over to the garden. Insects can be a large part of Integrated Pest Management. The Environmental Protection Agency defines Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as “an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that uses the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.” This means that we carefully observe the plants' and insects' relationships to the environment to make decisions of how to control pests instead of dumping nasty chemicals on our plants. What does IPM look like in our garden? Let's take a look.
Okra is a yummy, healthy vegetable that grows in our garden. Aphids also like to snack on it before it is ready to harvest. Instead of using pesticides to get rid of them, we rely on beneficial insects to eat them. One common beneficial insect that we all know and love is the ladybug! We plant flowers in the borders of our vegetable beds, like marigolds and zinnias, to attract the ladybugs to the garden. This keeps the aphid problem under control so we can still harvest and eat the okra. Beneficial insects also include the insects that pollinate plants and help with fruit production and flower propagation. The marigolds that attract the ladybugs are actually pollinated by butterflies!
Last week at recess, there was a third grader who told me she was digging a small hole to “give the spider a place to hide in case he is scared of all the people weeding.” Spiders, although technically arachnids, are very beneficial to the garden, snacking on pests such as aphids and cucumber beetles. There is a lesson to be learned from this eight year old. The next time you have an urge to kill a spider that you see walking around, remember that it plays an important part in our ecosystem. It might be what's saving your garden!