Saturday, June 14, 2014

farming for beneficial insects

Food crops aren't the only thing I'm growing at my farm. Of course, food crops take up the vast majority of my plot (they're my primary money makers, after all), but I've also been cultivating some plants that provide another form of income: beneficial insects.

My neighbors, Vladimir and Olza of Stadnikov Farm, provide Headwaters with a strong honeybee presence, which adds a steady hum to our farm soundtrack on sunny days. But there are also lots of native insects out there who benefit gardens, either because they help pollinate crops or they eat harmful insects, like aphids. Hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and bumblebees are a few of the natives I hope to attract with my insectary.

phacelia and a volunteer sunflower will soon be providing pollen for insects
I seeded a strip of Phacelia tanacetifolia, a popular cover crop, along one edge of my farm. Phacelia is often called by its nickname, "bee's friend," and it's supposed to attract bees and hoverflies in droves. My insectary strip also hosts many "volunteers" (plants that grow from seeds left by cultivated crops from previous years). Lucky for me, my plot hosted to a flower grower last year, so I have lots of flowers coming up in my insectary strip. I don't know the names of all of them, but I do know that they will make good insect habitat, so I'm letting them stay.

handsome volunteers
I also seeded a bunch of sunflowers and marigolds, which are now scattered throughout the farm. Along with their utility, I'm looking forward to enjoying their colors and textures once they're in bloom.

And finally, I have some food crops that serve double duty. Dill and cilantro are both in the plant family Apiaceae, which takes its name from bees because they love it so much. (I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual.) After I have finished harvesting those herbs, I will let them go to flower and provide more pollinator habitat.

Headwaters Farm is host to a number of pollinator strips, planted in collaboration with the Xerces Society. The Xerces Society is a cool nonprofit organization headquartered right here in Portland. It's working to protect and restore native invertebrates worldwide.

While I know that agricultural land will never provide the variety of habitats needed to support a healthy insect population, I am excited to do my part to make my land as insect-friendly as it can be. Long live the bees! (And the parasitic wasps, too.)

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