Ultimate Organic Gardening Philosophy
Nature vs Nature
I’ve been stalling. I have been meaning to write about my new belief in pest control. I like to make sure I really understand, myself, what I hope will result. It was months of watching documentaries about pioneering environmental legends that finally persuaded me to begin writing. Each found a powerful connection between all parts of the biosphere. I think the biography on public television about Aldo Leopold finally brought me out of my contemplative lethargy. And, the loss of a woman, I came to admire, who was a student of Professor Leopold’s when she was earning her PhD, helped renew activity. You see my radical idea for pest control is to use nature to control nature. So, I hope you are ready for a new way to use a very old idea.
The one theme that continually repeats in these documentaries is how nature is able to balance itself through an ebb and flow about a common center. Increases or decreases in any one individual species will affect all the rest of the habitat population that depend on that species for their own survival. By this I mean, borrowing freely from Aldo Leopold’s own observations, the wolf through predation maintains a healthy deer population. He learned that as the deer population goes up, the wolf population goes up to counter the deer numbers. Of course as the wolf reduces the deer concentration then they will themselves suffer and lose numbers through illness and loss of food. Leopold rejected the current “rational, objective, response” of his time. The theory was that we, as the primary species on earth, can benefit by controlling just one facet of a problem. For example, let’s eliminate the wolf and gain all the deer for ourselves. So, wolves were hunted to extinction. What resulted was that the deer population exploded. They began to destroy plant growth. The plants began to fail. The response domino-ed to include a host of other animals and insects that depend on the plants the deer were destroying to survive. Soon the whole habitat was severely unbalanced to the point that even physical parts of the environment like the soil, water and stone of the environment were changing. Simply, naively, eliminating the wolf, and no other part of the habitat, produced catastrophic events for Leopold to see. He realized that the wolf had to be present for the whole biosphere to be in balance.
People are a new force in nature. We learned early that by controlling just a small part of our environment higher yields of quality and quantity food stuffs resulted. Supplementing fertilizers and water produced superior food crops. We have become quite good at it. We have reached the end of our progress though. Being able to control pests has begun to be quite difficult. We have the idea that by concentrating on one part of the environment, say growing corn, we steer the environment in a way to benefit only the corn. This leaves the window wide open for those other factors that utilize the corn for their own survival while all other parts that do not have a connection to the corn fail. So, the corn borer had a field day. We sprayed a compound that killed the borer. The problem was that a few of the borers were not killed and developed immunity to the compound. So, we found a new compound only to find that the borer, while at first suffering severe population loss, soon found a way to live with this new compound too. That’s life. That was the lesson we needed to learn for ourselves. Completely removing a problem is probably not realistic and if we actually succeed will we not produce an even more catastrophic situation than what happened when we almost lost the wolves in the wild?
This is the heart of my idea. There is a natural counter balance to each and every other aspect of the natural order. In fact there are probably many counter balance components for every natural member. Perhaps this can be seen when we look at what can harm a person. We catch colds which are a different virus than flu virus. We suffer from bacterial problems like salmonella. This past summer a man in Australia was eaten by a crocodile. The bite of some spiders will kill us in a very short period of time. As you can see there is a great many concerns we closely monitor for our safety. And, yet we are the pinnacle of life on earth.
So, how can we use nature to control nature? Easy we need to understand the life cycle of the opponent. We need to know what our opponent needs to survive. We need to know the predators of our opponent. We need to understand their life cycle too. As we begin to understand our pest better we can then begin a treatment program. The home gardener will attempt a complete elimination of a pest. 30 years later the same gardener is still experiencing damage even though the product may have changed the process was the same. The home gardener may in some cases eliminate a particular pest problem in their indoor garden though we should not count on this aspect nor embrace it. We must be realistic and settle for an extended vigilance to keep our pest to an acceptable level. This is the ideal goal the general outdoor gardener must embrace. The outdoor gardener needs to learn to minimize damage while maximizing production.
We need to stop using a single treatment solution and embrace a multi factor program that will control our opponent and at the same time reduce their options to use genetic changes to maneuver around the treatment program we design. That means the single treatment, single unnatural chemical program we so unwisely embraced in the past needs to be replaced with a more comprehensive program that uses nature to control nature. We will need to learn that including a regular health maintenance program as part of our gardening experience is part of the fun. I have been quite successful controlling foliar nematodes in my hosta through this technique and am convinced this has only opened the door to turning my whole garden into a better managed natural place to grow my precious plants.
I would like to stress that there are many biologists, naturalists, gardeners, geneticists and other life science professionals (including medical doctors) and home enthusiasts that are all moving in this direction. There is an abundance of interest in the micro biological components of our life. It is not my idea, by far, to use life to control life. I am convinced that using nature to control and manage nature is the best way to garden. Huge advances are being discovered that include the inter-relationship of individual subjects and ALL of their connecting life habitats. Huge advances are being discovered about what a particular insect does for the good of the habitat as well as the bad. We really want to know how a particular subject fills a niche. We are now discovering some of the many thousands of micro fauna for the first time in addition to the macro life forms. My goal in this is to find a way to control excessive damage from pests as naturally as possible.
There is a “moral” issue to consider. In the process of killing a pest insect with a predator there will be more deaths than just the pest. Once the pest is substantially reduced, the predator will not have anything to eat. I mention this in the event one thinks there are not consequences even to this pest control process. Certainly we can convince ourselves that the micro beneficials go into a dormant state once the pest has been consumed.
This is my guiding philosophy for gardening. Future hubs will include these concerns when I explore topics in gardening I enjoy. These include traditional soil gardening, hydroponic gardening and my specialty which is hybridizing.