2020 Isolation Grow: Beneficial Insects and Plants

Apr 28, 20202020 Isolation Grow Blog

Brenden took this miraculous photo last year. In it, we have a beneficial insect eating a harmful insect. This is the Assassin Fly, and it has a burrowing beetle in its mouth. We began noticing assassin flies two years ago, the same year we embraced borage as a permaculture addition in our beds, and also in the aviary, where the ducks live. This is how it works. You grow plants that attract the insects that are helpful to the plants you want to grow. This strikes me as an event that is particular for every region. Your pests and beneficial insects are probably different from mine. Like learning about vegetation growing around you, you also need to educate yourself about pests in your area, and the solutions for those pests.

One of our favorite summer solutions to insect problems is right in front of us: Crab Spiders. 

When we see a crab spider anywhere in our garden, we will physically move it to a cannabis plant. This becomes their summer home, and woe be it for insects who stray too close. Spiders do no harm to the plant, but eat well, and guard ferociously. We welcome spiders. They are friends in every garden.

We also have a thriving, large bee population. There are hives in the hills surrounding us. If Karen ever gets significantly better than she is, she has considered starting a hive. 

The bees we have dominate our garden. They thrive on the lavender, and they are in every plant we grow. Every flower we have is visited by the bees, be they fruit, vegetable, or cannabis. There are honey bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees (which are a menace around a wooden house). We don’t encourage carpenter bees, but we do everything we can to encourage the others. They are the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Besides me.

Below is a worm that makes itself look like a stick. This is not a beneficial insect. Around here, a worm like this is a special treat for one of our ducks.

Borage Flowers

These are calendula, which serve much the same purpose as marigolds and chrysanthemums. It attracts the beneficial insects we love, including Assassin Flys. It’s also beautiful. We grow these all over, but this bunch is in the spice rack adjacent to our beds.

In our very first year of growing, I observed something interesting. I had a Cannatonic plant growing in one bed, two beds from an ACDC. Both of these cultivars are ruderalis like. In between them sprouted some borage in an empty bed. We enjoy the flowers from this plant, so we let it grow.

What we noticed for the remainder of that summer was how many moth and butterfly nests were on the borage, and not on the cannabis plants. The borage eventually withered under the weight and rot of scat, but our cannabis was not touched.

Now, we plant borage wherever we want it, and we don’t use any foliar spray on it. We want insects to feel comfortable nesting on that plant. Btw, we also discovered that the Assassin Fly loves borage, too. We still pick the flowers for salads and color.

In the below photo, notice the borage plant to the left of the Cannatonic. Notice the holes and deterioration of that plant. It is being consumed by worms. Then look at the rather pristine state of the Cannatonic. The worms were right next door.

We also plant marigolds in the corners of each bed, which are a known insect deterrent. Calendula is another flower we’ve noticed that attracts Assassin Flies. Again, picking the right beneficial plant is something you’ll need to research for your area. I know growers who swear by tobacco as a beneficial, or companion plant. Tobacco did not grow well here.

We have borage growing wild everywhere now. We have it in our aviary, which is where we grow raspberries and blueberries. I would say borage is now our number one beneficial plant for everything we grow. If you can grow it in your area, you should. As an added bonus, while borage is known for taking over where it grows, if it is too invasive, the plants are easy to pull up. Even Karen, with her weakened wrists, has no problem pulling up this plant. The roots are extremely shallow.

The difference between now and when we first started growing, in terms of having beneficial insects and plants, is night and day. What we do now is a conscious choice to grow plants and allow insects to flourish that will benefit what we are growing. There exists now a synergy that was not present when we began.

The process of discovery for beneficial insects and plants is a vital part of garden planning. We have lots of sprays and additives to help, but the more we can rely on nature to help us grow, the better.

As the grow proceeds this year, you will be introduced to other plants and insects to be either embraced, or avoided. I am still very early in my discovery of both beneficial insects and plants. There will be more as we go.


Jeffery Hickey
Oaksterdam Alumni

Jeffrey Hickey is a 2014 IPPY award winning novelist, performing in over 900 Reader’s Theater shows that featured his authorship of adult novels, and books for children. His accomplishments include a program of self-empowerment and effective oral communication, “Find Your Voice,” that he taught in public and private schools throughout Northern California. Jeffrey is the father of twin sons, and is arguably the happiest married man on the planet.