“I wish all the mosquitos would just die off!”

“I wish all the mosquitos would just die off!”
How many times have you heard this or even said it yourself? Yet, the loss of insect biodiversity has increased to the point that science has been forced to take note of it. It may not seem like it, but all life on earth is being jeopardized by this insect biomass decline.
The deaths of fifty thousand bumblebees in Portland, Oregon and the loss of ten million beehives to Bee Colony Collapse in 2013 was big news. It’s now trivial news, but needs to be put in prospective. Consider how devastating this would be if fifty thousand dairy cows suddenly died overnight or ten million hens suddenly disappeared over a seven year period with no apparent cause.
There is more to this than bees. There is the trickledown effect with insect loss. Swifts, swallows, the Chuck-will's-widow, and the Olive-sided Flycatcher are aerial insectivores; birds that feed on airborne insects. Although these birds are not big mosquito eaters, they do consume many larger insects and all have been on the decline with insect biomass loss. Many of our songbirds eat caterpillars, moths, and other insects.
Dragonflies, tadpoles, and bats are unrivalled at mosquito catching.  Soil organisms such as bacteria, earthworms, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa are vital to food production. Nitrogen fixing bacteria, actinobacteria, and mycorrhizae are symbiotic with soil and plant life; meaning they are necessary for healthy plant and soil. Yet, all of these are in decline.
While the causes of these declines are being debated, we as backyard gardeners and small farmers can make changes in what we are doing. We cannot wait.
It’s time to ready the garden for next year. Remove and burn any diseased garden plant material. Cut the beds close to the soil level. Cover with newspaper or cardboard and leaves, old hay, straw, wood chips, or compost. To improve soil composition, broadcast green manure crops and cover with compost. Add insectary strips to garden areas. Save some of your own open-pollinated seeds. They are acclimatizing to your soil and insect load. Avoid genetically modified seeds. Many of these seeds have soil organism and insect killers racing through their veins.
Pesticides are not the answer. Change how weeds are controlled. Use mulch and hand pulling. Herbicides are faster and easier, but deadly to soil organisms. Stop using insecticides. Accept some insect damage. Allow beneficials to build up their populations. Build some bat houses. That blemish on the tomato fruit doesn’t make it unwholesome.
More and more evidence shows monocropping is a vast looming problem. There are few garden plants that need to be gregarious to pollinate. Corn should be planted in four row blocks, but lettuce, radishes, beets, even pole beans can be intermixed to the compliment to all the plants. Bees are very smart. If they are only harvesting clover nectar, the will go from plant to plant until they are ready to start harvesting nectar from tomatoes.
These small changes work over time. I have found braconid, chalcid, ichneumon, and trichogramma wasps growing in population in the tunnel house. Lacewings, praying mantis, and one adult antlion has made it home.
The hardest part for me is accepting the loss of crops as nature starts balancing everything.

Linda Simmons writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.