Farming with Native Beneficial Insects. Ecological Pest Control Solutions

review by Eli Rubin

This book is about the unsung heroes of agriculture: Predatory insects, spiders and mites.  The book is filled with gruesome action shots of bugs eating bugs, just the sort of thing to inspire you to go out and make habitat for these beneficial insects.  Where this book is unique is its sole focus on native beneficial insects (as opposed to the introduced beneficial insects most common commercially), and the tools and tricks needed to increase their population in your own farm or garden.  The book pulls examples from large farms and ranches, but also contains sidebars of what-this-means-for-home-gardens as well.

Important to note is that the author clearly is not advocating organic means of crop production.  For example, the use of repeat application of non-organic herbicides is the choice method for these authors, for preparing new ground into wildflowers. They do however repeat (again and again) that pesticides will kill both crop eating pests and the predatory insects that feed on them and caution to spray smartly.  The other thing important to note is that this 240 page book could be reworded in 30 pages or less.  The take home message of the first hundred pages is that native flowers are good for native beneficial insects, and pesticides are bad for them.  Really groundbreaking stuff here. While this often too wordy and long winded start of the book may discourage you from ever finishing, there is useful information here and there throughout the book.  These include: lists of native plants (by region) which are known to attract beneficials, which insects are the ones to squish in the garden and which ones are friendly, what kind of habitat these good guys prefer to live in such as beetle banks, brush piles and homemade insect hotels, and other methods to encourage their population to grow such as providing supplemental diets when in the off season.

This book is easily accessible to everyone, and with lots of detailed color pictures, can be a good resource for the hobby entomologist, dedicated back yard gardener, or commercial farmer.  While the science behind some of the ideas presented here is a little unconvincing with sentences like “at least one study shows”, the ideas themselves are thought provoking and will encourage those of us who face pest pressure to try some new tactics in our repertoire for organic food production.  If you are looking for a comprehensive book on the insects you find in your garden, look elsewhere (like Garden Insects of North America, Princeton University press.) But if you are looking for a glimpse into the world of the insect ecosystem happening on the underside of the leaves in your garden and in the brush of dead plant residue, this book is a great starting point.