One of the amazing opportunities facing all gardeners and farmers is planting for wildlife — or, at least, growing food with biodiversity in mind. Organic gardeners understand that soil health is inherently dependent on robust biodiversity in the soil. Earthworms, invertebrates, fungi, bacteria, and many other organisms play different roles in the breaking down of organic matter into forms that are available to plants. But this concept carries on above the soil, too. The most obvious wildlife in most gardens are the legions of pollinators and other beneficial insects, not to mention the pest species many of them prey upon.
Planting to attract predatory insects is the simplest way to combat pest species. As with most things organic, we are simply exploiting naturally occurring phenomena. These hungry insects already exist in the environment. Why buy a bag of ladybird beetles when they can be attracted to the garden naturally through thoughtful planting? We encourage you to make this concept part of your garden planning, and to be aware of insects in the garden — which ones are present, and what are they up to?
Planting flower seeds for bees and other pollinators is similar thinking, but it achieves a different result. This first benefit is to provide food for honeybee and wild bee populations that we know are in decline. This is kind of a socially responsible thing to do. But it also improves pollination in the garden for better fruit set on plants like squash, melons, and peppers. Every summer we are asked by gardeners why their zucchinis or winter squash are not setting fruit. The reality is that it takes visits from several bees, traveling from the male flowers to the female flowers of a squash plant to achieve complete pollination. One bee is great, but hundreds of bees is much more desirable.
Gardeners lucky enough to garden in a large yard might consider committing a small section of it to go wild. Wild spaces that are not cultivated, pruned, fertilized, or otherwise groomed can become home to insects, birds, small mammals, and amphibians surprisingly fast. These spaces are excellent habitats for bumblebees, ground beetles, and other beneficials.
On farms or other large pieces of land, hedgerows are encouraged. The perimeter of a field might be planted with native shrubs and trees in such a way that it becomes a natural artery for wildlife to move through the landscape. Here in Delta, where farming has been a tradition for generations, the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust works with farmers and land owners to install these wild perimeters through their Hedgerow & Grass Margin Stewardship Programs. Both hedgerows and grass margins have multiple benefits for the wildlife in this region, and encourage high biodiversity in this important area for migratory birds.
You may not have a field to plant to support raptors and coyotes, but you can plant some dill and allow it to bloom. An amazing ecosystem can be supported by understanding that it’s not just the gardener who benefits from the garden.