Not all garden bugs are pests. Many eat a wide range of other insects and many more pollinate our plants so that they produce fruit and veg for the table. With winter approaching, many insects and other wildlife need dry, insulated shelter over the winter. Others that have laid their eggs in hollow stems and cavities will die off while their larvae and offspring overwinter to re-emerge in spring. It’s a fragile existence that can collapse in a hard winter, affecting the natural balance.
Garden nature reserve
You might not realise it, but your garden is a nature reserve. It’s a safe haven for a variety of endangered creatures and part of nature’s great balancing act. Insects are an essential part of the food chain and lifecycle of the garden. They need shelter and breeding sites. Gardeners are guardians of the earth. Within the boundaries of every garden are an abundance of sentient creatures that live, breed and shelter. Hedges, compost heaps, the soil, trees, shrubs, ponds and burgeoning borders all provide a refuge for a variety of wildlife. Every creature plays its part in the garden and has its place in the food chain. Wild birds eat a variety of garden insects; without a population of bugs, many of them would starve.
Insect houses have become a popular addition to the garden. You can either buy a ready-made house or make something yourself. You need plenty of hollow cavities for the insects to nest and shelter in, such as hollow stems, flowerpots and special masonry bee tubes.
They need to face south to get the morning sun. Insects are cold blooded and most need the morning sun to warm themselves up and get going. But more importantly they need to stay dry, so they need a waterproof roof, or alternatively small insect houses can be brought into a shed or garage for the winter between late October and the end of March to keep them dry. Remember to put them outside in the spring so that the emerging adults can feed and mate and continue the lifecycle.
Make a bug box
Anyone can make a small bug box for insects. Pack a flowerpot full of hollow stems of different diameters. It’s an ideal project for autumn when you are pruning garden plants. Many such as elder, lovage and grasses have very hollow centres, ideal for insects to nest in. Here’s how to make your own bug box:
- Cut them to similar lengths using secateurs.
- Pack inside a flowerpot with the open ends exposed.
- Place the flowerpot inside a shelter such as a chiminea that won’t be used over autumn and winter. Ideally it should face south.
Make an insect palace
If you’ve got the space then make something more permanent on a larger scale. Look around the garden for the perfect ingredients to build your very own bug palace. A couple of old pallets are ideal as the wood is rarely treated. Collect together fir cones, twigs, hollow stems, straw, old flowerpots and anything that has cavities that could be used by overwintering wildlife. It’s a great project for schools, communities or for larger gardens and it needn’t cost a fortune. Be creative in what you use, add natural materials where possible and make sure you add a waterproof roof of some sort. Alternatively build your insect house inside an abandoned garden store and re-felt the roof to keep the water out.
- Choose a sheltered position, facing south and place a pallet on the ground.
- Arrange a variety of bricks, rocks, sticks and old flowerpots within the frame of the pallet.
- Add a layer of straw or dried grass, leaves and twigs.
- Add another layer of varied material and top with a second pallet.
- Cover with a waterproof layer and then finish with an old turf or a piece of carpet and let the insects move in.