In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2000
Regional Report

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Green lynx spider waiting for prey to wander by on my lantana.

Rebalancing Nature

I've been gardening for more than 20 years, but I've recently been contemplating a basic change in my approach that has taken place over the last few years. In the past I viewed growing plants strictly in terms of inputs. To grow tomatoes, you mix X amount of such-and-such fertilizer into the planting hole and then sidedress with X amount 6 weeks later. When bug A appears, you kill it with product B. For disease C, you use product D or E.

The Garden Ecosystem

This knowledge has served me well and helped me simplify gardening and produce some beautiful flowers and veggies. The change, however, is that I've begun to view the garden as an ecosystem with a multitude of actors and variables. I still fertilize and control pests when needed, but more of my time is spent building soil, attracting beneficial insects, and discouraging disease outbreaks.

Some might call it organic gardening, but it's not purely organic. Synthetic products have their place in my garden, but the longer I garden, the less I find myself undertaking rescue operations to fix a major problem.

Attracting Beneficial Insects

All this pontificating started the other day while I was watering. As the spray settled on the plants, I noticed an assassin bug crawling onto a pepper leaf. Nearby on the zinnias some dragonflies and a predatory wasp moved in for a drink, while a crab spider sat crouched, waiting for lunch.

Fifteen years ago I would not have thought much of these insects and the roll they play in my garden. Now I look for these beneficials and recognize the things I can do to attract them. My gardens now include plants that produce pollen to feed the adults and plants that harbor a few pests to provide food for the immature and adult stages. I also keep some water in the garden. It's a great way to attract certain beneficial insects as well as butterflies and birds.

Minimizing the Need to Spray

I spray less often, and when I do, I am very aware of the spectrum of control a product offers. Whether the spray is organic or synthetic, it will have some side effects. When a broad-spectrum product kills pests and beneficials, it's often the pests that rebound fastest, throwing the balance of nature out of balance for a time.

Rebalancing

Like the pendulum of a clock the balance of nature is forever swinging from one end to the other, seldom finding a place of constant balance. I am learning to tweak the system to help rebalance things in my garden, and learning to minimize the times that I throw things out of balance. Gardening just gets more interesting and enjoyable every year.


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