Get your garden buzzing with beneficial insects by planting their favourite food, writes Justin Newcombe.
If you're busy making headway in that untamed wilderness that was once your vege garden, then you could do with some help.
If you remember your local beneficial insect population and sow some beneficial flowers, they'll feel more inclined to stick around come high summer when you'll need them most.
One of the undisputed highlights of late spring and early summer in our back garden is the influx of insect life. A healthy insect population is vital to a successful harvest, so getting to know which critters to encourage is rewarding and fascinating.
Unfortunately for both insects and humans alike we live in fairly hostile times as far as productive cohabitation is concerned. Consumers are encouraged to rid their properties of all insect life using a devastating cocktail of chemicals and solutions that ultimately destroy all insects, including the beneficial ones. It is easy to forget that many plants rely on insects for pollination and friendly bugs often need the so-called pests for food.
With that in mind you may want to consider upping the diversity in your vege plot. Along with healthy soil, insect diversity is your garden's first line of defence.
Start to recognise beneficial insects in your garden, such as hoverflies, lacewings, ladybirds, beneficial wasps, praying mantises and spiders, and make it cosy for them. Then sit back and watch them work their magic.
Ultimately what you want is a strong beneficial insect population to help wipe out the pests. The single most important thing you can do is to plant flowers in your plot, preferably all year round. Also allow some of your vegetables and herbs to go to seed to provide a habitat for helpful insects.
Certain plants have proven, through the ages to be more beneficial than others, such as members of the daisy family like cosmos and coreopsis. Other all-time favourites include phacelia, borage, lavender, marigolds, calendula, sunflowers, Queen Anne's lace, eschscholzia and many more. Look for wildflower seed packs containing special "insect blends".
You could also consider growing flowering natives around the periphery of your garden or in between garden beds. Some plants such as nasturtiums and cleomes act as sacrificial plants, attracting unwanted insects such as the white butterfly caterpillar and the green shield beetle, which means you can wipe out large numbers all at once. It is a good idea to grow several successions of these plants throughout the season.
Let's not forget herbs of course which are often pungent enough to "mask" your vegetables from unwanted visitors. If you're feeling really keen you could add a small water feature to your garden as this will attract birds (which eat insects and plants, so be wary) and possibly even the odd dragonfly. At the end of the day, the more diversity, the more insects you will attract.
Now is a perfect time for planting out your beneficial flowers. Many speciality seed mixes contain a few perennial plants but generally they are composed of easy to grow annuals, which are very good at popping up the following year in some kind of configuration. Probably the most enduring beneficial plant in our garden is borage, which is really a borderline weed in our case.
From one plant purchased 12 years ago we are inundated every season with these fleshy triffids, with which we have developed a love-hate relationship. Although prolific and invasive, they provide copious quantities of bee food and they seem to net quite a few green caterpillars as well.
I'll concede that in full flower they look beautiful - which of course is another very good reason to plant flowers in your vegetable plot. And rumour has it they are very good in gin.