Of all the hats homesteaders wear in order to maintain their homesteads, becoming an amateur entomologist has to be one of the more bizarre. Everybody can probably identify at least a dozen different insects by species. For example, fly, spider, bee, ladybug, ant, firefly. Okay maybe not a dozen, but at least several. The identification typically stops at that top level. Who needs to know what particular species of fly is landing on the potato salad?
However homesteaders, farmers and gardeners too, require an in depth knowledge of insects by species, stages of development, diet, habits, predators, etc. For those of us employing integrated pest management (IPM) this info is crucial to our planting and harvesting success. IPM is a multi-phased method of controlling insects in gardens. The method contains a variety of strategies that begin with first identifying the object of the particular management practice.
One of the first things people learn when they begin gardening is there are "good bugs" and "bad bugs". Bad bugs destroy the plants or their fruits (what the plant produces), while good bugs are beneficial to the plants by pollinating them, distributing nutrients through the soil around the plants or by eating the bad bugs.
As good stewards of the land and hungry people, it behooves us to remove the destructive insects so they will not destroy the plants resulting in fewer or no crops to be harvested, i.e. leaving little or nothing for us to eat. We may employ chemical insecticides to perform this duty or we can use the IPM methods. Regardless of the approach, the need arises to not be indiscriminate in the removal of all insects in the garden, which would result in the loss of the beneficial insects.
Regardless of insect removal method applied, the first step must be identification of the insects resident on the plants. This is where the entomology education comes in. Below is a list of aspects of insect identification that may applied to every specimen found in your garden.
- Are the insects harmful or beneficial?
- What do the insects look like through all stages of development from egg to larva to pupa to adult?
- What are its eating characteristics, does it eat the plant itself, attack the roots or eat the fruit?
- Are the insects diurnal or nocturnal, do they stay on the plants or come and go over a period of time?
- Do the insects have any predators that may also be resident in your garden?
If you can answer all of these questions you will know whether an insect requires removal or should be left in place. There are many web sites (see the links below) that provide details on garden insects so you can focus on the varieties that frequent your homestead's location. Your local Agriculture Extension Office may also have guidance available to residents of your county. The keys to successful insect management are to be vigilant, curious and diligent. Once an insect variety has been identified you will be able to develop a plan to determine your best approach to protecting your garden plants.