“Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator-prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.” – Brian Skerry, Sharks – A New Ethic
Farmers, gardeners, homeowners, apartment building superintendents, we are all part of a mass conspiracy to just generally mess things up. We seek to control an environment instead of finding a niche in it, and as a result, we are finding ourselves facing increasingly complicated series of unintended consequences which were entirely predictable, if only we hadn’t so arrogantly assumed we were somehow above and separate from the natural world.
But that is not really the important part of the story.
Even “safe” pesticides (that is, safe to humans), whether “organic” or otherwise, represent an entire philosophy of how we relate to bug (and other) pests (whether of the agricultural or domestic variety) which has devastating consequences not only for entire ecosystems, but for ourselves as part of those ecosystems.
|Put humans in the "Omnivore" or "Herbivore" slots, and you get the idea. We're part of this whole nutty|
Circle of Life thing, whether we remember it all the time or not.
We started with Brian Skerry’s explanation of the importance of sharks in the ocean for a reason. Skerry is one of the world’s premier underwater photojournalists, and he is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. As such, he has spent several decades immersing himself literally and figuratively in parts of the world where disruption of natural food chains has had devastating long-term consequences, many of which have only just begun to be felt by humans but which, make no mistake, will dramatically alter everything from the price of cosmetics to the availability of nutritional supplements to the price of leather shoes.
We’d explain, but frankly, we don’t have time to enumerate just exactly how interconnected the world is – if you haven’t figured that out by now, you may be too difficult to reach. Sorry, it’s simply the truth.
As for how sharks relate to pesticides…
Our response to those parts of the natural world which do not “behave themselves” in such a way as to make life easy for humans has always been to simply engineer a solution to steamroll them out of our lives.
- A mountain is in the way of your a tunnel through solved!
- A swarm is eating your them with chemicals that either kill or at least deter the solved!
- Wolves killed sheep in your solved!
- Squash borer moths are laying eggs that kill your the plants in solved!
- Roaches are hiding in your your cabinets with solved!
Unfortunately, each one of those “solutions” involves consequences which do not end merely with our ability to go our merry way, pursuing whatever plunder of the natural world we thought we could get away with via brute force.
|These are the "good guys" in your garden. But...|
you won't have any of them if you either a) poison
the "bad guys" or b) don't provide the right kind of
environment for them... an environment which
just so happens to also include some of the
Obviously, it is impossible to simply exist without exhibiting some kind of destructive force on the world around Chinese Yin-Yang construct is not a mere abstraction, it is a physical and construction are forces joined-at-the- act of creation involves the destruction of something that was, taking raw materials (a chunk of marble, say) and turning them into something else (Michelangelo’s “David”… and a pile of rubble).
Destruction, likewise, involves the taking apart of something, and the making of something pests in our agricultural fields, gardens, and houses is not just the removal of an is also the creation of something new, and what strategy we use in that destructive process in great measure determines what it is we will be creating.
We wrote recently about how to control cockroaches in households, and if you will recall, our suggested strategies relied more on altering the environment in which both we and they live than on finding the most effective means of killing are perfectly satisfied with cockroaches having a place in the world, so long as that place is the leaf litter surrounding our ponds or our chicken coop (or, for that matter, in the mulch around many of our garden plants, which for the most part they do not consider food, preferring the mulch itself as sustenance).
In much the same way, our suggested strategy for controlling agricultural pests is not the same old steamroller than adding chemicals to our environment which are not only in and of themselves too complicated to accurately study in terms of health impacts on humans (and that includes genetically modifying crops, too, as declaring them “safe” without at least 100 years of data involves a preposterous degree of faith in a limited data set), we suggest modifying our relationship to the environment with which we are trying to interact.
We want fruits and vegetables, and vegetables grow in the wild, all over the world, in natural environments where the plants have evolved against the backdrop of predation by a wide variety of both vertebrate and invertebrate life forms, and even predation by other vegetative species.
In some of those environments, they others, they fail.
Since a garden (and on a larger scale, a farm) really represents nothing more than a microcosm of the world at large, it is inevitable that the same dynamic will play out kind of predation will be attempted when you plant certain species, whether in rows in a field, or in a pot on your patio.
Much as with our suggestion for roach control that you remove the hidden spaces in your kitchens and bathrooms – the perfect environment for cockroaches – we suggest that you think about the perfect environment for the kinds of creatures who interact with each of the kinds of produce you are growing.
- What keeps wild peaches from getting over-foraged by deer, birds, and bugs?
- What keeps wild tomatoes from being devastated by hornworms, or birds, or nematodes?
- How can you best mimic the behavior of the wild, sprawling squash beds in the wild which are least affected by squash borers?
These questions are not anywhere near as difficult to answer as most beginning gardeners the vast majority of experienced gardeners have a hard time with these questions not because they are hard, but because they have incredibly bad habits to unlearn.
In the wild, the most successful seed-bearing plants have a few things in common.
1) They produce a lot of evolutionary strategy is a response to the fact that once the parent plant dies, inevitably squirrels, birds, etc. will eat most of the seeds, and only a few will survive to grow again the next season. “Seedless” watermelon are therefore probably a bad they be . Should they be not.
2) They exist alongside other plants. The best defense for a vegetable bed from predation, whether by invasive stink bugs, potato bugs, hornworms, aphids, or what have you, is a very diverse set of plants around the bed, some of which are themselves toxic to a handful of predatory species, others of which put off smells that repel other species, and still others which attract insects and arachnids which themselves prey on the “pest” some plants are there specifically to be eaten instead of the veggies. Sunflowers, nasturtiums, geraniums, marigolds, etc. are pretty, true, but they also keep the bugs attention on themselves and off of your tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, etc.
3) They are still attacked by animal predators, but they have healthy ways to adapt and bite or two out of the most exposed strawberry in your berry patch is not the end of the is a squirrel managing to wend his way through your thorny blackberry bushes to get at the lowest hanging peaches on your you’ve mulched them well, watered them regularly and deeply, and avoided excessive chemical amendments to their environment (whether herbicidal, pesticidal, or even in the form of chemical fertilizer), then when they get attacked, they will bounce back.
The final thing to remember is, we ourselves are are taking from our plants in an aggressive the fact that we are consuming fruit we did not ourselves produce is a serious vertebrate on animal violence is easy for us to conceptualize – we understand that when a coyote kills a rabbit, that is predation exists for all life a very real sense, kudzu is a predator of oak gardeners are predators of tomatoes.
|You can harvest bountiful, delicious produce from a garden that breaks all the homeowner's association|
rules, and ignores the conventional wisdom regarding bugs, weeds, and cages. Really. Trust us.
If we want to live in a healthy relationship with our agricultural spaces, we would do well to remember solution is not to bend everything to our will, and make it all serve our solution is, rather, to find a way to make the system as balanced as possible. Don’t eradicate pests; gently lead them to a less dominant position in the ecosystem – they will still be there, but for every aphid family, there is a ladybug in every beetle there is an assassin every mite there is a green lacewing.
A healthy garden is a biodiverse garden, which means that it is not going to look neat and tidy and ready for inspection by a homeowner’s is going to be sprawling, and a little on the wild side, and have plenty of creepy-crawlies in it.
Feel free to add some benches, footstools, and garden gnomes, mean, let’s be reasonable, right?