Permaculture gardens always have lots of flowers, right? We know they attract pollinators, like bees, and we like bees for our fruit trees. We know flowers are attractive to the eye, not to mention their beautiful fragrance… We also hear vague instructions like “use companion planting” and “form a guild of beneficial plants” But what plants? And what insects are we trying to beckon into our food forest? What is the key to keeping pests under control naturally?
Let us unlock umbellifer flowers. Umbellifer flowers are insect magnets because they have many tiny flowers that create a large umbrella shape together. It’s the combination of the small flowers closely packed together all on one stem and this gives the teeny tiny insects easy access to many little flowers without having to travel a far distance for the next pollen party, or getting completely lost in a giant flower, the design of these tiny flowers is such that even the smallest creature can sink it’s teeth into the delicious nectar with ease. Umbellifers are also known for their powerfully aromatic fragrance that attracts the perfect predators; including ladybugs, wasps, and lacewings.
No one decimates aphid colonies like the humble ladybug, these ladies lay their eggs in close proximity to the aphids and one single ladybug larvae can consume up to 300 aphids as they mature.
When you think you have a caterpillar problem, it’s actually a lack of wasps problem, these guys swoop in and abduct the caterpillars, fly them to their nests and feed them to the developing larvae, they will collect ‘em all, including corn earworms, armyworms, loopers, and hornworms, even some flies. I’ve even witnessed a wasp take out a huge black widow spider, and attempt to fly the lifeless lunch up to its nest. They’re pretty badass. Some wasp species don’t even sting, instead, they lay their eggs inside the caterpillar larvae, bringing pest control reinforcements, and just like that the caterpillar problem is solved.
For all your other pests, lacewings got you covered, they aren’t picky eaters and they’ll have just about anything you’ve got, common targets include mealybugs, psyllids, thrips, mites, whiteflies, aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, insect eggs, plant nectars, pollen, and honeydew. And they’re insatiable, they can eat over 200 insects every week!
Our permaculture garden in South Africa had umbellifers blooming all about bringing with them a beautiful buzzing sound in the garden. On one fennel plant, I can count at least 25 wasps, that’s quite an army of caterpillar exterminators right there.
Umbellifer species include anise, angelica, caraway, celery seed, coriander, cumin, dill and even crops of carrots, parsnips, and celery will be sure to bring your garden to an ecosystemic harmony.
Let’s let the system take care of itself, rather than using pesticides, which would ultimately lead the system into chaos, allow the order to return. More plants, more beneficial critters, less pesticide nonsense. Long live permaculture food forests!