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In the Garden: Give beneficial bugs a home in your garden

Insect hotels can be elaborate, like this one at the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. (SUSAN MULVIHILL/For The Spokesman-Review)
Insect hotels can be elaborate, like this one at the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. (SUSAN MULVIHILL/For The Spokesman-Review)

You might think I’m nuts for wanting to attract insects to my garden, but you’ll quickly discover there is a method to my madness.

As an organic gardener, I avoid using chemicals for dealing with troublesome insects. Fortunately, when it comes to the insect world, the bad guys are in the minority. I have learned that of all the insects out there, 99 percent of them are either beneficial or benign.

Well, I want to attract the good guys to help me deal with that pesky 1 percent. I also want to draw in pollinators to increase production in both the vegetable garden and our small orchard.

An insect hotel is a great way to accomplish both goals. After seeing them in European gardens, we decided to build our own two years ago. If you’re new to this concept, you might be wondering what an insect hotel is.

Their purpose is to provide a structure filled with natural materials for beneficial insects and pollinators to lay eggs in and/or hibernate in. In this region, an insect hotel will attract native solitary bees, beetles, lacewings, ladybugs, parasitic wasps and spiders. If some of those sound creepy to you, remember that they do a lot for us in our gardens so they are well worth housing.

Ours has attracted a lot of mason bees which are very efficient pollinators. They are easygoing and fascinating to watch.

If you do a web search on “insect hotels,” you will be amazed at how many different styles you’ll see. Some are simple and elegant, others are quite elaborate.

The best part of building one is that it’s something you can do with kids to teach them about the fascinating world of insects. It’s important for them to understand the role of insects in the environment, instead of thinking they should step on them.

Because my husband and I are going to build a second insect hotel, I wanted to explain the basic concepts.

There are only two rules for building them: face the open side of the structure to the south or east so insects will benefit from the sun’s warmth, and cover the top to protect them from wet weather.

Just like with our first insect hotel, we are going to use recycled building materials. The base structure will be an old beehive “super” which essentially an open wooden box. We’ll close in the back of it and make shelves inside to hold materials that will attract the insects. Since I’m still tidying up the garden from the winter, I should have plenty of items available; refer to the information box for ideas.

When it comes to the actual design, be as creative as you like. Just be sure to put it in a spot where it can be observed. Ours is at one end of our vegetable garden and we frequently sat near it last year, watching the mason bees coming and going. What a fun way to observe how the natural world works.

Learn how to build an insect hotel in this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video on my YouTube channel, youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com.


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