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07 September, 2011

Garden 10: Food for All, or It All Ain't Food

One of the Blueberry Guard

It only occurred to me as I vainly grasped for a clever post title that my rationalization for procrastinating myself out of any serious attempt at pest control in decades of gardening could pass as a Garden Philosophy. Maybe more, if I can pump up a fully righteous head of steam.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, a diversitude of creatures ambulate, root, hyphaeate and otherwise occupy what is in theory a controlled landscape. My monotheistic ancestors, farmers dependent on the God of Abraham (and the Holy Ghost of Agronomy), plucked bugs and pulled weeds til the cows came home, until one of those cows in it's brahmic wisdom brought forth unto these farmers a bounty of chemicals. Most tillers of soil lost out to the conglomerates who replaced stewardship with production, and had to leave the land to those who could wrench the greatest efficiencies out of topsoil tranmogrified from living organism to platform for nutrients, herbicides, and pesticides. The Holy Ghost ascended to the heavenly throne, and nations came to depend on the chemiracle to feed themselves, their armies, and their trade surpluses. (Then came genetic engineering, the chimeracle, but that's another episode...)

But those bugs and slugs flitting and crawling, the weeds stealing soil and crowding crops, the molds and fungi and microbial malevolents...they may be threatening the beans, the carrots, the squash, the tomatoes, egads--the hops! Maybe. But then again, some provide haven and ambush sites for pest-devouring preyers, diversity and distraction enough to derail disasters. The complexity of a soil only sorta weeded (not hoed and turned, much less the more harrowing experience of mechanifarming), strung through with a felt of roots, hyphae, tunnels and wee webs of creatures too multitudinous to comprehend, lacks a uniform veneer of predictability, but is a better long-term bet.

Chemfarmers gain a momentary advantage. The weevils and weeds die, the crop comes in (barring misapplication, bad weather, and the plethora of troubles that will always ace farmers). But not all the pestiferous fauna and flora die, and the survivors immediately set to breeding immunity into the population. The survivors represent a diversity-poor selection at first, theirs is a high-stakes gamble that overcoming a single chemical will result in success. But if they win, they win big, and a field becomes a field of weeds, with a single species dominating to an astonishing degree. 

Which is almost as lousy a place for the animals and fungi as was the industrial moncropland.

Meanwhile, back on the tendril of thought that started this post, my garden has no resident chemical residue. I've been known to directly expel and even violently attack a plant predator, but I don't poison anything. Which means that anything there can be food, even if not for me. If the ladybug can gobble the aphid with no worry, good. If herbivores have a plethoric buffet, so much the better for any one food plant to survive. If the fungi select out the weakest, then evolution points me in the right direction (or more precisely, away from a wrong one). I do not get miracle yields, but I get my share.

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