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When we say, “You can take that to the bank,” we refer to a good idea worth further consideration.

In England, New Zealand and various sites in North America, organic farmers and gardeners are using a different kind of bank — a beetle bank — as a worthwhile asset.

This good idea has several concepts. We acknowledge that most insects are beneficial.

We know that many of these need some sort of organic debris for shelter. We understand that most beneficial insects, especially predatory beetles, don’t travel great distances.

And we realize that it is possible to garden and farm in such a manner as to provide a year-round habitat for beneficials that should result in less destructive crop insect damage, greater insect biomass for wild bird food and improved health for the soil.

Thirty years ago, the insight that led to the development of beetle banks, now in use worldwide, was astonishingly simple. The English Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, co-developer of beetle banks with the University of Southampton, explained: “As fields have got bigger the centres of crops are now often remote from the field boundaries … and …  insects like ground beetles, which over winter in hedgerows and fence-lines, are no longer able to spread into the centre of the crop. Thus when pests like cereal aphid and wheat blossom midge invade in early summer there are no predatory beetles around to prevent an outbreak, and the farmer is forced to use an insecticide.”

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At Oregon State University, a program as part of integrated pest management is called Farmscaping for Beneficials — creating habit for beneficial insects, as well as information to teach how to build a beetle bank. Fieldwork is under way to learn more about beetle life cycle and dietary needs.

Some farmers are already convinced. The Seattle Times (June 14) focuses on organic farmer Brad Bailie. While he can’t quantify the results specifically, he stated, “I do know I have not had any serious pest outbreaks,” and added, “you also have to understand a lot about insect life cycles to deal with beneficials. I think any habitat you create on your farm is positive.”

Cathie Draine is a member of the South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and the Garden Writers’ Association. She lives and gardens in Black Hawk. Contact her at cathiedraine@rap.midco.net.

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