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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Adding Diversity to the Garden

by Chiot's Run

I'm always trying find ways to increase the biodiversity in our gardens and to broaden my knowledge of the benefits of of biodiversity, even in the small scale garden. Every year we add a few more native/local plants, especially ones that are beneficial for insects (like milkweed, queen anne's lace & goldenrod). We also garden without the use of any kind of sprays or dusts, even the organic ones, which still be hard on or kill beneficial insects. Our methods of pest control are limited to luring beneficial insects/birds/animals to our property and companion planting. If our cabbages get decimated by cabbage loopers we try companion planting or we try to lure beneficial birds to the garden. One of the reasons I don't spray or do anything to limit the insect population of any kind is because I believe the "bad" insects are around for a reason. If we didn't have them, we wouldn't have the good ones either, or the birds/animals that rely on them for food.

What got me thinking about this was something I read a long time ago about some trees in one state. This particular type of tree was plagued by web worms (which we have a lot of around here). The state started a spraying program to control the worms, but then they noticed the trees started dying off. After further study they found out that the worms defoliated the trees right at the time the dry season started. The defoliation allowed the trees to lose less water and thus survive the dry season. When they killed off the worms, they inadvertently weakened or killed the trees. We have such a limited view of the natural world, what we often see as a "pest" if often doing a specific job, if we interrupt that natural cycle we often do more damage.

Adhering to these self-imposed rules hasn't always been easy. We've had times when we've been overrun with earwigs, HUGE wolf spiders, and slugs and I've lost crops to insect damage. But we have noticed that each and every year we have a greater variety of insects, birds and other creatures in our gardens. Along with all these new species comes a healthier ecosystem and fewer problems with overpopulation of one species. I've noticed that we don't get overrun any more. When the cabbage worms start getting out of hand, the wrens eggs hatch and mama goes to work collecting all those big juicy fat green worms to feed their young. At that moment I'm thankful that I didn't dust the cabbage or those little wren babies might not have enough to eat. The more I pay attention to these natural cycles the more thankful I am that I read that article so long ago. I love spotting a wasp patrolling a broccoli plant in search of a caterpillar or birds flitting around the tomatoes looking for giant hornworms.

My newest attempt to add biodiversity to my gardens is in the way of a small pond. We've been wanting to add some water for the insects, frogs, toads, birds and other wildlife. I have small saucers of water I around the garden (change water frequently to avoid breeding mosquitoes), but I have been wanting to add something larger. My parents gave us their old pond when they upgraded to a larger one. We installed it a couple weeks ago and 2 days later we found a few toads in it already. We bought some fish to help with mosquito control and it looks like we're on the way to even great diversity on our small 1/4 acre lot. I've noticed bees and wasps drinking from the pond and the birds love it as well. I'll keep thinking of new ways to make my little slice of the world a refuge for the insects and animals of all shapes.

Any great tips and ideas on increasing the biodiversity in the garden? Have you noticed a greater abundance and variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife in your gardens?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal and you can follow me on Twitter.


Gremlina said...

We feel very similarly about our garden. Daily we notice what a cycle we have created by simply avoiding interference. although there can be frustration, too. We have found es-car-go from Gardens Alive to work wonders on earwigs & slugs & it's said to be organic...
great article!

Tracey said...

You're so right that without the so called 'pest' insects in the garden, the 'beneficials' won't stick around. Not a lot of people understand the need to tolerate some level of pest pressure in order to have a healthy's one of the hardest parts of organic gardening to explain, I think!

msbetterhomes said...

Thanks for this post - I am currently be-sieged caterpillars on my tuscan kale, and am trying to keep my nerve and chant my 'biodiversity' mantra!

Chiot's Run said...

It is tough isn't msbetterhomes! Having the long view of things is difficult, I suffered a few lost broccoli crops in order to reach the wren population I have now. They're doing a fabulous job eating them all up now!

For a great chapter on this read The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot's chapter on growing beyond organic is FANTASTIC! I bought the book to read the chapter over and over again to remind myself.

Flowers said...

First time commenter here. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog.

Sense of Home said...

Now that we have more fruit trees and bushes in our yard the number of birds has really increased. Bad for my harvest numbers, but the cat loves it.


Joseph said...

last year at this time, our back yard was entirely empty and void of life. we planted some veggies in the summer, expanded it again in the fall and again in the winter, then added a bunch of flowering natives this spring, as well as a native wildflower bed. i am amazed at the good and bad bugs that move in when a small habitat like ours is created. and how does a black swallowtail butterfly locate four fennel plants in an entire neighborhood? now we've got twelve caterpillars! we've seen quite a few, so i started our "beneficial insect files" in an attempt to document and highlight the good bugs we find. there is a lot to be said about balance, and i think your post illustrates how important both the good and the bad are to the whole.

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) said...

I'm a patio gardener and some renegade aphids rode in on a flowering plant I brought in without checking. Sigh. But the hummingbirds love my lime tree and the cats love watching the hummingbirds.

Joe said...

Great blog!!
i really enjoyed reading it!

debi said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I'm about to do a presentation to a local group of women on organic gardening. Since I don't really mind insects and I'm a biology major, I absolutely encourage a backyard ecosystem, and it's been a great experience for me. But I wasn't sure how to get that across to women who get squeamish at the sight of a spider. I really think this will help. So, thanks!

Annette said...

As a general rule, fish should not be added to a biodiversity pond as they eat tadpoles and invertebrates such as dragonfly larva and water boatmen (which are mosquito predators, by the way).
In the natural world, small ponds usually are not inhabited by fish, unless connected with bigger water systems.
Some fish species, though, are worse than others. Goldfish and Mosquito fish are especially voracious and incompatible with other animals.

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