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Good Bugs for Green Thumbs

Driving to and from Ashfield these past weeks to attend showings and inspections at our listing at 74 Ranney Corner Road, I have continually been blown away by the immense beauty of the Pioneer Valley witnessed on that drive.  So many native plants are in bloom, it seems almost every color of the rainbow is represented.  I have not yet been successful in developing a green thumb myself, but I know many people who take pride in growing the wide array flowers and vegetables that our local soil enables us to grow.  To that end, I was struck by this piece in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this week, discussing beneficial insects (with a bonus list of plant sales and garden tours at the end).  I felt compelled to share it here.

Get Growing: Beneficial insects

Even the youngest gardener knows that lady bugs are good guys, otherwise known as beneficial insects. And most gardeners of any age are becoming more aware of the crucial role bees play as pollinators. But there are other beneficial bugs with which you may not be familiar: parasitic wasps, hover flies, lacewings and tachinid flies.

In the past week I've gotten information from two different sources on attracting beneficial insects to your garden. First the National Garden Bureau sent an email to garden writers across the country. Then Renee's Seeds sent a similar notice. In both cases the writers emphasized plants you can grow to attract these helpful insects to your garden.

Of course, there is no point in trying to lure beneficial insects to your garden if you insist on using pesticides. Chemicals kill good guys as well as bad guys.

Ladybugs, or more accurately ladybird beetles, devour aphids which sap the juices from the tender buds of all kinds of plants. They are actually the hardest to attract to your garden because once the aphids have been destroyed, the beetles move on to another banquet. Be sure to find a picture of a ladybird beetle larva so you don't eliminate them by mistake. They aren't pretty like their parents.

Lacewings, primarily the larval stage, are also hungry eaters of aphids. In fact, one of their nicknames is "aphid lion." They also devour insect eggs, thrips, mites, mealybugs, whiteflies and small caterpillars. Their parents can be attracted to your garden by planting sunflowers and members of the carrot family. Among the parasitic wasps, the most well-known is one that lays the eggs in that dread tomato hornworm. They are distinctive oval white eggs laid down the back of the caterpillar. If you see a tomato hornworm with the unusual egg decoration, don't kill it. Let the wasp larvae kill it instead. There are dozens of other parasitic wasps that can lured to your garden if you plant members of the sunflower or daisy family. Try planting dill, cilantro, parsley, asters, goldenrods and sunflowers. Yes, these can be planted right among your vegetables as long as you space the plants well.

Tachinid flies have similar tastes to the wasps: members of the carrot, sunflower and mint families. You might need to sacrifice a few dill or parsley plants but the flies will repay you by eating many types of caterpillars, squash bugs, Japanese beetles and sawfly larvae.

Hover flies looks like skinny honey bees with stripes. Of all things they love sweet alyssum best. So go ahead and plant that edging of white or purple sweet alyssum in your vegetable garden as well as your ornamental garden. The hover flies will thank you by taking care of scales, thrips, mites and those pesky aphids. They also like buckwheat flowers (buckwheat is a great cover crop with lovely white flowers), catmint, yarrow and cilantro flowers. Hover flies are also called syrphid flies or sweat bees.

You won't mistake a hover fly for a bumblebee, but many of us forget that these bumbling tanks of the bee family are wonderful pollinatorsm who, unlike the fussier honeybees, aren't deterred by cold, cloudy or even rainy conditions, so they keep on working in orchards and gardens while the honeybees remain in their hives. Bumblebees love lots of flowers especially clover, mint, coneflowers, asters and sunflowers. They also love the nectar of tomatoes for which they are particularly effective pollinators. The National Garden Bureau, Renee's Seeds and this garden writer all acknowledge the information provided by the Home Garden Seed Association of Maxwell, California. (

PLANT SALES: The majority of the local nonprofit plant sales were held earlier this month, but there are still opportunities to buy local plants while supporting nonprofit groups. Here is the final list:

? May 24: Amherst: 4-H plant sale, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Amherst Farmers Supply, 320 S. Pleasant St. Hanging plants, patio pots, vegetable plants, flowering plants, herbs and perennials. Leverett: Leverett Historical Society's Plant and Garden Book Sale, 9 a.m. to noon, Leverett Town Hall. To donate plants or books or to help contact Dawn Marvin Ward at 367-9562 or Julie at 367-2656. South Hadley: Mount Holyoke College Talbott Arboretum, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Benefits purchases for the greenhouse and campus grounds.

? May 31: Amherst: Grace Episcopal Church on the Town Common, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Plants, including house plants, garden tools, decorative pots and books. Proceeds finance landscaping at the church. To donate plants call the church office at 256-6754.

? June 7: Leverett: Leverett Elementary School, time to be announced. Nasturtium hanging baskets, decorated flower pots, marigold seeds and garden ornaments. All grown or produced by the school's children in the greenhouse program.

GARDEN TOURS: The first garden tour of the 2014 season is the 21st anniversary tour sponsored by the Friends of Forbes Library in Northampton. The date is June 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, in advance; $20, day of tour, available at Forbes Library, Cooper's Corner, State Street Fruit Store, Bay State Perennial Farm and Hadley Garden Center. The only other tour about which I have been notified is the Amherst Historical Society on June 28. More details to come on that tour in June. If any other group is sponsoring a tour, please email me at

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