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Your Gardens Health

Eight years ago I planted a garden with my family. It has slowly spread its roots all through our tiny 1/16th acre. In fact it struck me the other day that we may have officially graduated from gardeners to micro-farmers.

We were conscious from the very beginning that it was important to grow food in a manner that would be healthy not only for our bodies but for our small corner of soil as well. After all our yard is simply a microcosm within the much larger context of the world macrocosm.

Our family has attempted to work within the framework of nature. I suppose some would say we incorporate a combination of permaculture, biodynamic gardening and some good old fashioned common sense in regards to our gardening techniques.

For example we have embraced the local wildlife as part of our responsibilities as land stewards rather than foes to be eradicated. The first two years that we had a garden we did not even have fence around our property. The rabbits who lived in the neighboring forest would stop by and eat particular vegetables out of our garden. So I began planting a patch of these veggies specifically for them knowing they would eat it. I figured I was as much in their space as they were in mine and you know what it worked. They left the rest of the garden alone. We still have rabbits roaming the garden. In fact this year a doe and her two kits have decided to call our property home and we all get along fine. Though it is a terrible tease for our poor beagle.

Eventually I began to recognize the vast amount of wildlife that was living on our patch of precious land. I would discover newts early in the wet spring slumbering by the lilac bushes under heavy stones. My family not only left indigenous plants in the garden for beneficial insects but started planting them among flower beds as well. In other words we understood the value of inviting them in. We have homes scattered throughout the gardens for the toads who eat thousands of insects. Bullfrogs recently began showing up. I have discovered more snakes than I can count this summer. In fact we discovered a nest of them in our compost bin this morning! Birds, some common, some rare, nest and feed among the bushes and trees left to provide shelter for them. The soil is rich with earthworms. This is how I measure the health of our family garden. If these creatures who are usually the first to go in unhealthy environments are thriving then I suppose we are doing something right.

Mayflies and wasp dance among the foliage. Hover-wasp and praying mantis patrol the garden patch. Plump bumblebees and their more agile cousin the honeybee regularly drink pollen from sun up to sun down among the clover and forget-me-not that covers our lawn. Chipmunks and squirrels run the wooden ledge of our neighbors fence fat from the blackberry patch. They are welcome to it because there is enough for all. I forage in their neighborhood for berries of all sorts so I feel it is only right to allow them the same opportunity. Fox call from across the road early in the morning seeking a mate. Deer on occasion sprint across our neighbors lawn envious of the neighborhood rabbits I'm sure. We had a black bear amble down the street three blocks away this past spring much to the shock of the neighbors!

We have even planted items in the garden to lure in those animals that only appear after dark such as bats. (speaking of bats check out Bovina Brown Bats on facebook for some pretty cool facts about these beneficial though much maligned creatures.)

I suppose I am telling you all of this to plant a seed of my own. To get you to think about the idea that your garden or farm is not separate from nature but an extension it. One should be far more concerned that any of these animals are not visiting your property rather than the hazard of them showing up. Is it that you do not provide the proper habitat or even worse do they simply not exist in your area anymore? Take the bat for example. We lived in this neighborhood nearly 6 years before we saw our first bat. They are more common now but that concerned me for a number of reasons. To begin with the insect population was out of control but also when I was a youth and lived about 1/2 mile from where I do now we were almost overrun with bats. So where did they all go? Environmental pollution from local factories of course. Also poor stewardship by those who owned land not to mention other factors both natural and unnatural I believe.

By embracing local wildlife you are only benefiting your garden in the long run. Pollinators and natural pest control just to name a few. You are also setting a working example of the grave responsibility we all have as gardeners and farmers. In the end you are providing not only a healthy canvas for your own creations but that of Mother Nature as well.  

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here 


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