How a Garden Can Change Your Ecosystem…And How it Changed Ours
When we first moved to our home in Cooperstown, NY, the ecosystem around our home was sparse. Most of the farms in our area produce corn and soybeans, and maybe some hay depending on the year. None of them are very close to us, except maybe the corn. The birds of prey seemed huge, but there was little else to be seen. Except for maybe a deer here and there. We moved in to our home in June, so gardening that year was just not going to happen.
My husband wanted to start one the following year, which surprised me because he had always grown up in cities and towns and his mom’s garden wasn’t something he really participated in. I, however, had grown up gardening. My mother always had a garden, and we always worked right along side her. I was not a fan. And at first, I was not on board with starting one for our little family.
Year 1 – 2011
At the time I was working full-time, had just had a baby in the last year or so, and just didn’t see why. I didn’t think I had the energy or the time. Regardless, my husband, Matthew, really wanted to start a small one, so I was
supportive. But, to be honest, that first year was awful. Not long before we had moved in gravel must have been dumped in the very spot we had chosen to garden, because under just a quarter-inch of dirt was almost solid gravel. It took us months to just cut the “sod” to even be able to start a small garden. Never the less, my husband persisted in wanting a garden. I wish I could say I was more supportive, but I complained way more than I would like to admit. We did manage to grow a couple of things that year, but the ecosystem didn’t seem to change at all that first year.
Year 2 – 2012
Nevertheless, the next year we got a little smarter. We decided trying to dig in that gravel was just not going to work, and went the way of raised beds. So. Much. Easier. We ordered the wood from our local hardware store and built them relatively quickly. We then purchased a truck load of compost from a local farmer and we started our meager garden. The first year we saw a few song birds and some more bugs, but the change was not yet very clear. The second year wasn’t that different.
The second year we added some garden beds (more than we could handle really). We were both gaining some enthusiasm for putting this little seed in the ground and, with a little work, reaping a harvest that we had grown ourselves. We couldn’t believe how much better the food from our garden tasted than the stuff from the store! The difference was unbelievable. Knowing that we could grow at least some things ourselves, and that they tasted so much better, we persisted. We also started learning more about where our food comes from in the stores, how old it really is, and what chemicals are used on those fruits and veggies. That was very motivating.
That year we saw some more birds, deer, turkeys, rabbits, and a groundhog. Oh the groundhog. And the rabbits. Those are two parts of the ecosystem I could have done without. We did not have a fence around the garden, as we could not really figure out how to afford it. If we had been able to fence it in those early years, I imagine we would have had a far more substantial harvest.
Year 3 (2013) – Year 7 (2017)
As the years have gone on, we have seen many song birds return year round, there are more rabbits, more pollinating insects (and pests. More on that later), more geese, ducks, turkeys, deer, ladybugs, (and now that we have bees) more wasps. Not as much a fan of that last one.
In short, our land now supports a menagerie of wildlife, where at one time we only saw an occasional hawk fly overhead. We have added bees and chickens to our little homestead, which also helps with the balance of our ecosystem. And maybe someday we will add other wildlife and insects (heard of mason bees?). But right now, we are focusing on the garden and bees. My husband was right…gardening is totally worth it! It helps our ecosystem, it provides us with sunshine, exercise, and delicious, healthy food. And it gives us a real reward that we can hold in our hands. It provides us with the ability to see the fruits of our labor.
As many of you are probably aware, our populations of beneficial insects are in trouble. Bees and butterflies are what come to the forefront of my mind when thinking of beneficial insects, although they are far from the only ones. There are a variety of insects, including beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and more that offer wonderful contributions to our world.
So why are they in trouble?
Well, there are a lot of theories out there. The probability is that it is a combination of factors. Two of these factors, habitat and pesticides, are addressed in the Bee Better Certification. The Xerxes Society, via grant from the USDA, has partnered with Oregon Tilth to provide the Bee Better Certified program. You can read more about it here.
While this program is for farmers and ranchers, there are lessons to be learned for the rest of us. It is of vital importance for us to be conscientious about our use of pesticides and what we plant. There are a lot of plants out there that do very well for different insects. Even if you don’t want to put a lot of research into it, planting something that flowers is a great first step.
How Can You Help?
If you are not a farmer, the best thing to do at this time of year is start looking at your property and thinking about what you could plant next year to help the native and/or beneficial species of insects. You can view our seed starting basics articles here to help get you started. In some cases, you can even buy insects such as ladybugs and lacewings and have them mailed to you. These two particular insects can actually serve as natural “pesticides”, as they eat bad bugs – think aphids.
What will you do to help your local pollinators?
Why make simple syrup and what is it, you ask?
Simple syrup is an awesome way to add a sweetener that will easily blend into whatever you put it in. It’s sugar that’s already been dissolved, so you don’t have to worry about grittiness when you add it to things. So what can you use it for? (more…)