Encourage beneficial insects in the garden with a bug hotel
May 17, 2016
In the past year I have focused on incorporating more beneficial plants and flowers into my vegetable garden to encourage bees to reside, pollinate and enjoy my garden. Since I began planting flowers for the bees I have noticed an increase in both bees and also the volume of vegetables we harvested this summer as result of these changes. The garden also looks much prettier with flowers interspersed between the plants. I wrote about the flowers I have been planting in a recent post, outlining why I believe each to be beneficial to the garden. As part of this learning I recently discovered and planted Back Yard Buddies in two of my garden beds. It is a seed mix of annual and perennial flowers that attract and shelter beneficial insects. I love them so much that you can now buy them in my shop if you would like to add some to your own vegetable garden.
I have seen numerous examples of bug hotels around the internet but none inspired my curiosity enough to take action. I launched my new book, Grow Just One Thing – The first step in a fresh food journey at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in March this year. Over the five days of exhibiting at the event I met many inspirational and influential garden lovers, writers, artists, media and retailers. One of the people I met was Jodie from Every Day In The Garden. I had the chance to look at and talk to her about her beautifully crafted insect hotels. They are created from re-cycled materials but more importantly, from years of her experience and observation.
Jodie inspired me to want to make a bug hotel for our vegetable garden and to learn more about the insects that populate and protect the garden. Jodie’s experience and explanations of the insects she has studied in her hotels inspired me. As I learn about beneficial plants that encourage insects, this seems to be another critical element to support and develop a healthy organic vegetable garden.
I aim to inspire my children with a new adventure in our garden with this bug hotel. I have no expertise or experience in this area but will be studying and recording what happens in our bug hotel over the coming seasons, we will learn together.
I believe that a bug hotel is a wonderful opportunity for my children to observe, monitor and record the insects, their activity and preference for materials. I hope to be able to review their activity and the results of their presence – provided we have managed to create a hotel that is attractive to them and suited to their needs.
Some of the beneficial insects I hope to attract include:
I hope that we have made a shelter that will provide protection during winter and a place to nest in spring.
There are sure to many other insects I have not heard of that are not going to wait for an invite to come and take up residence. I am hoping to document some of our visitors in pictures as they take up residence.
After the MIFGS I was so inspired by Jodie’s work that I have Mr Fresh knock me up a frame to use for our hotel. It is made from old fence posts. It then sat around for the last 3 or 4 weeks. The kids excitedly collected nuts, wood and pieces they wanted to include in the hotel and it then sat around for a little longer because I had no idea how to put it all together.
I have no skills with a drill, saw, hammer or tool of any sort other than a hand trowel for digging in the garden. Mr Fresh offered to assist me with this project but I was keen to make something that anyone (with no tools or equipment requirements) could do with the kids. If he had of helped me I know our bug hotel would have been amazing, neat and precise but this one is my free-style version that anyone can make with the kids.
I sorted through a pile of cut up pieces of wood scraps that we have at the side of the house from tidying the garden, replacing fences, and various house projects over the past years. I sought pieces that were untreated, in their natural state. I put the pieces together in approximately 30 minutes using the bits and pieces the kids had already collected and the pieces of wood and grasses I gathered.
To keep everything in place I hammered three pieces of broken fence paling onto the back of the frame (badly! I won’t show you pictures of bent over nails, partly in the wood, or incorrectly sized nails poking all the way out the back. I really don’t think it matters – the insects won’t mind I am sure!).
The pieces of paling that I used for the backing are broken and uneven. I left them as I found them as I was too scared to contemplate using Mr Fresh’s power saw. By fluke I put the tallest one in the center (see picture below) and it has worked to hold the whole thing up where it is hanging in the garden from an old meat scale I had previous used to hang a basket. I nailed a little hinge kind of thing onto the wood so that the ring of the scale can hook onto it.
Once the back of the frame was in place I nailed the piece of wood that is placed horizontally across the frame into place by hammering a few nails from the back palings through. The rest of the pieces inside the hotel that the kids collected are simply resting inside the frame. My Fresh says they will fall out and he is probably right. If this happens I’ll take inspiration from Jodie and put some wire over the front to hold everything in place. In the meantime I am happy to consider it an experiment and we will monitor to see if the position in the garden and layout of the materials is attractive to the insects over the coming months.
I have positioned the insect hotel on the border of one of the garden beds and surrounded by pots of flowering plants and herbs. I hope that this will assist to attract some residents.
One of the things I am unsure about is the bundles of dried lemongrass I twisted together. Lemongrass is said to repel mosquitoes which is a good thing as far as I am concerned but I am not sure if there is other food source, or beneficial bugs that it will keep away also. This will be one of the things we monitor and will remove and replace it if needed. After I’d taken these pictures I also found some gum nuts with beautiful big openings that the kids had collected so they have been set aside to add if needed.
My 8 year old is very excited about tracking the insects and progress to see what comes to visit and how they interact with the garden.
Do you have an insect hotel in your garden? Have you been studying the residents? I’d love to hear any learnings from your experience in the comments.
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