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Balance In The Garden

From biology to chemistry to physics, there are notions of homeostasis, chemical equilibrium, and equal and opposite forces: balance is nature.

Your body regulates its temperature by sweating when you’re overheated and shivering when you’re cold. In chemistry, atoms stabilize by gaining or losing electrons and bonding with other atoms. In math, operations done to one side of an equation or inequality must again be done to the other side. All around you systems are constantly attempting to maintain this homeostatic condition; to balance themselves. This concept is no different in the garden.

We are at the time of year that we must pull out the old and put in the new. When you pull an old plant out, you must add new soil and new mulch where the old plant used to be—nutrients have been used up and must be replaced. In this instance, you are maintaining the nutrient level of the soil. This is an example of an outside interference maintaining a preferred homeostasis, not necessarily the balance that is natural to the current environment.

If I never added mulch or soil to the area that we plant in, we would grow nothing because the soil is a hard clay that dries up like a rock during the summer. When we add our own expectations to the balance of nature we must be careful to not over do it, or else our actions may have negative effects. Adding decaying leaves to the garden will not hurt the environment because this is what happens naturally in forests, and in fact is shown to be good for producing a top soil, which has been stripped during development.

An example of where our actions can negatively affect the stable conditions in a garden and in an ecosystem is using pesticides. Most everyone knows that using pesticides can be harmful for humans and butterflies, but not many think of the long term effects on your garden’s overall insect population.
When you use a general pesticide, it is similar to using a general antibiotic: it kills both the good and the bad insects without discrimination. For perhaps the first growing season, this method may be effective. But when the next growing season comes, so will the harmful insects, and your garden will not have natural predators to defend it.

In the garden, you have beneficial insects: pollinators—bees and butterflies—and equally beneficial predatory insects that feast on other insects that can ruin your crop overnight. Interestingly, you need to have some of the non-beneficial insects in order for the predatory insects to arrive so that they will have something to munch on. If your garden has no food for the beneficial why would they come? Just as you plant flowers to attract honey bees, you must allow some of the “bad bugs” in your garden so that the good guys will come and set up camp.

The most common predatory insect might be ladybugs. Ladybugs feast on aphids, which are tiny green insects that will suck the sap out of your beautiful squash leaves. Many suggest ordering ladybugs to take care of the problem. While this may seem like a clever idea, it is not as effective as one might believe.

First, when you release the hundred ladybugs you bought, half are just going to fly away. The other half, while they may stick around and find your infestation of aphids, will soon realize that there are not enough aphids to feed all fifty of them, and they too will fly away.

Another reason importing ladybugs into the garden may not be effective is that the stage at which ladybugs eat the most is when they are in their “teenage” years—the larval stage. Unfortunately, when you purchase ladybugs they are already adults and tend to be more concerned with laying eggs than eating all the aphids in your garden.

When it comes to gardening, simpler is better. For a beginner, the temptation may be to buy all the fanciest soils, fertilizers, and pesticides. Their success may last for a season or two, but in the long run it will be neither financially nor environmentally sustainable.

Here in The Saint Constantine Garden, we practice gardening in such a way that children become aware of all the cycles of life taking place around them. Whether it be the life cycle of flowers, of worms, or of a spotted cucumber beetle, they are all worth our time, our investigation, and our understanding. Were it not for such delicate details and symbiotic relationships, balance as we understand it would not be possible. I hope the students are aware of the stable ecosystems around them and recognize the awe-inspiring natural order of homeostasis that maintains the beautiful world we live in.

A quick update on our garden: We have pulled out most of the fall crops and have begun to plant our winter and early spring vegetables. We are still in need of soil and seeds. If anyone would like to help out, you may contact me by emailing elewis@saintconstantine.org.

To close, here is an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Glory Of The Garden:

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find come needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth everyone.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

– Rudyard Kipling, The Glory Of The Garden

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