gardening, nature

What good are bugs? And what good is henbit anyway?!

It’s henbit season here in North Texas. When lines are drawn. Either you are for henbit or you are against henbit. A middle ground is sometimes found. Against henbit in the front yard. For henbit in the back. Where the neighbors can’t see it. We have probably all had that one neighbor at one time or another that would saunter over and give some unsolicited advice on lawncare. Thankfully mine moved away several years ago. I am thinking the couple that bought that house must be for henbit. Or their lawn crew just hasn’t been called out yet. Right now, their front lawn is a blaze of lavender flowers, bees buzzing about. I walked past it earlier today and couldn’t help but smiling, for I know somewhere in the universe, the previous homeowner is cringing and just knows that his once tightly manicured and chemically induced lawn has gone to the bees.

As I was mulling over today’s blog topic, I glanced over at the bookcase that holds many of my gardening books and one book’s title – out of the hundred or so books – jumped out at me. What good are bugs?

My past few posts have focused on the quote “If something is not eating your plants, your garden isn’t part of the ecosystem.” I have highlighted two beautiful butterflies, along with their caterpillar stage and their specific host plants. I think supporting the life cycles of butterflies is something we can all agree on, right? But what about other bugs? Do we have to love them all? And for that matter. What good is henbit anyway?!

What Good Are Bugs? Insects In The Web Of Life, written by Gilbert Waldbauer, may be a heavier read than most people are interested in, but it does a great job explaining exactly why humans need bugs in our lives. (And, thankfully, it can be read in bits and pieces, as that is how I tend to read non-fiction.)

We know – and appreciate – that our food supply is dependent on insects for pollination. But do we stop and appreciate the bugs that are on the clean up crew? The ones that eat and break down dead animals and plants, not to mention animal dung? Without them, the planet would look vastly different than it does. Insects are also important food sources for wildlife further up the food chain. If we eat eggs and/or chicken, than we also need to appreciate that free range chickens are an insect eating machine.

Where does henbit fit in this picture? Henbit starts blooming in mid- to late-winter, a time when very few plants are blooming, yet this is also a time when many insects are venturing out on warm, sunny days, in search of nectar.

Do you remember the old advertisements for lawn chemicals? Chances are the man in the ad is smoking a cigarette or a pipe while applying whatever chemical is being touted. The children and family dog are probably nearby, playing on the lawn, still wet from the chemicals. The wife is likely standing on the patio, wearing high heels and a dress, smiling. Some ideals are hard to break from. Others are easy to kick to the curb. We can look at the old advertisements today and see them as quaint. A different era. Smoking hasn’t been allowed in advertisements since the Nixon administration. But what about the ideal that our lawns must be sprayed with chemicals and devoid of all life except for the desired green grass? When are we going to kick that to the curb?

Thankfully, society is starting to wake up. More and more, we see and hear about people that are planting for pollinators, allowing areas of weeds to bloom, eliminating chemicals, installing native wildlife habitats, the list goes on and on. Imagine if even a quarter of the world did just one or two small things to help wildlife, the changes would ripple out, for we really are intertwined in one giant web of life.

Not convinced on the benefits of henbit? What if I told you it is also edible? And who doesn’t love some free food?! The top growth of henbit (stems, leaves and flowers) can all be eaten and is quite delicious in salads. Wild greens, such as henbit and dandelion, are also high in nutrients.

I have allowed a few of my winter greens to flower, as an added nectar source for the insects. The photograph below shows the lavender blooms of henbit, along with the bright yellow bloom of a winter green. Several types of kale are also shown.

Photograph below, taken today, shows a bee on another winter green I have let go to flower.

The sketches in the book What Good Are Bugs? are quite adorable…

Keep Calm and Appreciate The Insect World.

Even Parasites.