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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 6 December, 2019
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From the Garden: Build your own insect hotel and bookings will start rolling in

An insect hotel will encourage more wildlife and biodiversity into the garden, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

MY YOUNGEST CHILD has a book called Doing Things with Dad which is full of little projects that kids can do with their fathers. She pulls it out whenever she feels the need to gently remind me to spend time with her.

This Father’s Day, it was left on the breakfast table beside a card she made for me. So basically her gift to me was to spend time with her. She’s a smart one.

The project we settled on was to make an insect hotel as a way to encourage more wildlife and biodiversity into the garden – providing beneficial insects with a sheltered winter habitat.

She’s learning about the decline of our insect populations but thankfully she’s also learning about positive things she can do to help (rather than being petrified in to complete inaction, which I guess is how most of society feels about the climate emergency).

I love this sense of purpose in children and I think adults are starting to listen and realise that it’s not enough to be horrified – we have to actually do something.

Things are changing, albeit far too slowly – with people and local authorities starting to think more about re-wilding spaces knowing that we have starved insects of their food and habitats for far too long. 

From a food grower’s perspective, encouraging insects in the garden is also a good plan since they play such an important role in the pollination of veg and fruit crops.

They can also bring balance back to your veg patch in terms of natural predators. For example, when your broad beans get an attack of blackfly instead of reaching for the spray you can hang tight and wait for the ladybirds to move in to deal with them.

An insect hotel provides an ideal habitat for all sorts of beneficial insects, particularly solitary bees and wasps that make individual nests for their larvae (as opposed to forming colonies).

The wasps will use two of the great veg patch pests, caterpillars and aphids, to feed their larvae. Insect hotels should also attract ladybirds and lacewings, the latter also being a formidable natural predator of the aphid.

Hibernating insects will hide in the various crevices and holes and bees and wasps will create a mud cap over the holes having laid their eggs.

The result of our two hours together is the contraption you can see in the picture. Our eldest boy was dragged in to help for reconnaissance missions around the garden to gather materials.

A more enjoyable time you simply could not have – an activity with purpose and those you love.

Now we just need to wait for the hotel bookings to start rolling in.

IMG_0805 Michael's insect hotel. Source: Michael Kelly

The basics – making an insect hotel

A very simple insect hotel can be made by drilling holes about 10cm deep into a block of untreated timber. Varying the diameter of the drilled holes will help attract different types and sizes of insects.

Fix the block to a sunny wall or fence at least 100cm off the ground.

Our insect hotel was a little more elaborate, made from a few old pallets that were sawn in half and stacked on top of each other.

Pallets are ideal because they have ready-made compartments that you can stuff full of materials; twigs, logs, tin cans, stones, broken plant pots, bricks, old tiles, straw, rolled cardboard etc.

Hollowed out bamboo canes can be cut into short lengths and stuffed into a tin can. We also drilled holes directly into the solid blocks that hold the pallet together.

Creating a roof for your hotel is a good plan too, as it will keep the insides dry for the hotel residents – we used old slates.

But with it being summertime, it might be a while before insects move in.

Recipe of the week – new potatoes and egg salad

I harvested some new potatoes this week but was disappointed to find that the spuds are tiny still and need another 2-3 weeks in the soil.

I got around eight to ten little spuds from one plant – not enough for a decent feed, but enough to be the star ingredient in an egg salad which serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 300g new potatoes
  • Four eggs
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Two spring onions or green onions, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

For the dressing

  • Six tbs rapeseed oil
  • Four tsp cider vinegar
  • One tsp English mustard
  • A pinch of sugar 

Directions

Bring a pan of water to the boil and lower the eggs into the water carefully.

Cook for seven minutes. Take out the eggs and put them in a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking.

After 10 minutes or so, take the eggs out of the water, crack the shells and peel them. Chop the eggs roughly.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a pan of cold water and add a little salt.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes, until tender. Drain well and allow the cool. Chop them into bite-sized chunks.

Make the dressing by adding all the ingredients into a jar, pop on a lid and shake well until it has all emulsified.

Finally, get yourself a large bowl and add the eggs, potatoes, tomatoes and chopped spring onion. Season it well with plenty of sea salt and black pepper.

Pour over the dressing and mix well.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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