Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Animals I: Birds, Bats, and Bumblebees

I should probably send Rob Hopkins a thank you note. I’m not at all sure he meant to draw attention to the Green Wizards project just as the forum at went live, but that’s the way it turned out, and the results have gone past my most improbable hopes. Measures of forum activity I’d hoped to pass in six months have been shouldered aside in six days, and the forum staff are scrambling to deal with a far more lively online community than any of us expected this soon.

To all those who have participated in the Green Wizards forum so far, I certainly owe a hearty thanks, and to judge from comments fielded there and elsewhere, the best way to express it is to plunge onward into the next phase of green wizardry and start handing out more practical information. That’s the agenda for this week, certainly, and the subject under discussion ought to be dear to the hearts of prospective green wizards. By the time you’ve finished with this week’s work, you may not be able to call spirits from the vasty deep as Glendower claimed to do, but you’ll be able to call helpful critters from the surrounding ecosystems to help maintain the balance of your garden – and yes, to forestall Hotspur’s gibe, they will indeed come when you do call them, if you do it in the right way.

Let’s start with basic concepts. A garden is an ecosystem managed in such a way that human beings get to eat a significant fraction of the net primary production of the plants that grow there. Net primary production? That’s the amount of energy each year that the plants in a given ecosystem take in from the Sun and store in the form of sugars and other compounds that can be eaten by some other living thing. Everything other than plants in any ecosystem gets its fuel from the net primary production of that ecosystem, or of another ecosystem that feeds energy into it.

You’re not going to get anything close to a majority of the net primary production of your garden onto your dinner table, by the way, and it’s a mistake to try; if you do, you’ll starve other living things that depend on a share of net primary production to keep their own dinner tables stocked, and you need these other living things in order to have a healthy and productive garden. (Ignoring this latter point is one of the critical errors of today’s industrial agriculture.) Your goal instead is to make sure that as much of the net primary production diverted from your table as possible goes to living things that earn their keep by doing something for your benefit.

Here’s an example. A certain amount of each year’s net primary production from your garden goes to feed earthworms. Any gardener with the brains the gods gave geese won’t grudge them their share, because earthworms break down organic matter into forms plants can use, and they improve the texture and drainage of soil as they do it. Charles Darwin – yes, that Charles Darwin – wrote a brilliant and too often neglected book on the role of earthworms in the creation of topsoil; what he found, to drastically simplify a classic piece of ecological research, is that earthworms are topsoil-making machines, and the more you’ve got, the better your soil and the higher your crop yields will tend to be.

Now the logical conclusion to all this, at least according to the logic of modern industrial society, is that gardeners ought to run out and buy earthworms by the carload. As it happens, this is rarely a good idea. There are bound to be some earthworms in your soil, and since earthworms are hermaphroditic and fertile most of the time, there’s generally no shortage of baby earthworms starting out on their slimy and subterranean lives. The question, if you’ve got a worm shortage, is why so few of them grow up to become the big pink nightcrawlers that haunt fishermen’s dreams.

This is where another of the fundamental principles of ecology comes into play. Liebig’s law, named after the 19th century German agricultural botanist Justus von Liebig, has the interesting distinction of being at one and the same time one of the most consistently valid principles of ecology and one of the most consistently rejected concepts in modern economics. The short form of the law is that for any organism, whatever necessary resource is in shortest supply puts an upper bound on the carrying capacity of the environment for that organism.

To understand how this works, imagine a plant growing in your garden. That plant has a variety of needs – water, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, an assortment of trace elements, and so on. If the soil is short of any one of them, it doesn’t matter if all the others are abundant; the nutrient in short supply will determine how well that plant can grow in that garden. Readers familiar with the rhetoric of today’s economists will recall the claim that if humanity runs out of one resource, we can always replace it with another; this claim amounts to insisting that Liebig’s law doesn’t apply to human beings – though it’s a rare economist who knows enough about nature to recognize that.

There are good reasons to think that the economists who make this claim are dead wrong, but that’s a topic for another time. The point that needs making here is that all the living things in your garden are subject to Liebig’s law, and if you want more of some particular organism in your garden, the way to get it is to find out what the resource in shortest supply is, and provide it. With earthworms, most often, it’s the sheer amount of organic matter in the soil that’s the limiting factor, and the more organic matter you put into the soil – by hoeing in compost, using mulches, planting green manures, or what have you – the more infant earthworms will mature to massive pink nightcrawlerhood and get to work improving your garden soil.

The same rule governs all the other useful critters you might want to attract to your garden. Bats are an example too rarely considered by organic gardeners. Why so many people fear and dislike bats is beyond me; any animal that can eat its body weight in mosquitoes in a single night, after all, should be a welcome guest wherever it goes. Still, the benefits bats bring to the garden outweigh the simple pleasure of not being eaten alive by the insect world’s answer to Count Dracula. Many of the grubs that cause serious damage to food crops – the corn borer, the apple maggot, and more – are the larva of night-flying moths, and night-flying moths are prime bat food.

The limiting resource for bats, nearly always, is daytime shelter during the non-hibernating months, and so one very easy way to bring bats to your garden is to build or buy a bat house and set it in an appropriate place. Both the house and its placement require a certain degree of care – bats, like nearly all other animals, are particular about their homes – but their preferences are well known and the resources given at the end of this post will provide you with the information you need.

Get a proper bat house in place, and in most cases you can count on a crew of bats finding it and taking up residence in a fairly short time, and thereafter any problems you may be having with moth larvae will become a good deal less severe. You’ll also be doing a good turn for the bats themselves; recently, a fungal disease called white nose syndrome has caused high death rates in many North American bats, and ensuring plenty of housing and habitat for the survivors will help bat populations survive the epidemic and recover quickly once it begins to pass off.

Birds are the day shift to bats’ night shift, and some varieties of birds are well worth attracting to your garden as well. Swallows, swifts, and martins – a closely related group of birds with tapering, pointed wings and a prodigious appetite for insects – are a classic example. Until the advent of chemical agriculture, farmers across North America went out of their way to encourage barn swallows to set up housekeeping in and around their farms, because swallows do exactly what their name suggests to a great many daytime insects that make life difficult for crops. Like bats and most species of birds, swallows and their relatives are particular about their homes; here, though, this is a double advantage, because homes well suited to swallows are uninviting to starlings and other birds that damage crops.

Another set of living things your garden needs is pollinators. The collapse of honeybee populations over much of the industrial world has been all over the news over the last few years, and for good reason. Without pollination by insects, many food crops don’t produce or reproduce, and honeybees have long been the primary pollinators of most commercially grown fruits and vegetables, with hives being trucked from farm to farm over hundreds of miles in season.

Exactly what is causing Colony Collapse Disorder is uncertain as yet, though some evidence points to a class of recently introduced pesticides – neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid – which are highly toxic to bees and can build up in a hive’s honey supply to lethal levels. Until the issue gets sorted out, making sure that your garden has backup pollinators in place is crucial. Domesticated honeybees are one option, but beekeeping is not a project for everyone; another, far less demanding option is to increase the population of local species of wild bees.

Spend some time outdoors watching flowering plants and you’ll quickly discover just how diverse a range of insects can play the pollination game. Many of them are bees of one kind or another, for there are thousands of kinds of bees, each with its own lifestyle and preferences. Very few of them have the complex social structure and hive life of the honeybee, and even fewer of them have a sting painful to human beings. Most are solitary, harmless, and short-lived, hatching in the spring and mating almost immediately, after which the males die and the females spend the rest of their lives laying eggs in burrows of one kind or another; each egg will hatch out the next spring as a bee of the next generation.

The orchard mason bee is one variety of solitary bee that has become a popular pollinator in some areas, especially where fruit trees are grown. The limiting factor for orchard mason bees is nesting sites for the females to lay their eggs, and this can be provided with a simple wooden block drilled with a lot of 5/16" holes. Nesting blocks for several other species with similar life patterns can also be made or bought; again, the resource section at the end of the post gives details.

Another common wild bee with a somewhat more complex life pattern is the familiar bumblebee, large and furry, that can be found visiting flowers through the summer months in most of North America. There are many species of bumblebees; all of them dwell in small underground hives which they build in abandoned burrows, and they have queens who live for several years and workers who live only one. The limiting factor in their case is not homes, but homes safe from predators such as field mice, who like to dig down into hives and eat the larvae.

The way to make Liebig’s law work in bumblebees’ favor is to take a small wooden box full of cotton wool, and with a short piece of old garden hose extending from a hole in the side maybe six inches. Bury the box in the ground in a secure, fairly dry place, so that the end of the hose just pokes out of the ground. Once a newly hatched queen finds it – which rarely takes more than a single spring – you’ll have a bumblebee hive full of pollinators who will do their duty for your garden and the wild plants around it as well.

All pollinators need something in flower to feed on for the entire period they are active, which for orchard mason bees extends from March to the end of May in most areas, and for bumblebees, depending on the species, can run from sometime in the late spring well into autumn. The absence of flowering plants can be a limiting factor for all kinds of bees, and if the area around your garden is short on flowers at some point in the season, a flowering shrub or two to fill in the gaps is a good investment. We have a buddleia in our front yard that serves as lunch counter for a dizzying array of daytime insects, including nearly a dozen species of wild bees; your local ecosystem will have appropriate shrubs that will fill the same role.

The same principle can be applied in many other ways. Just as you can encourage a species by figuring out what resource it needs is in shortest supply and providing that resource, in other words, you can limit an unwelcome species by figuring out its resource needs, and doing your best to make sure that one of those needs is as scarce as possible. As you work with your garden, and learn more about the complex ecosystem that an organic garden develops around it, pay attention to places where a little careful tinkering with variables can increase the population of something you want, and decrease the population of something you don’t want. It’s not so clumsy or random as a pesticide, as Obi-Wan might have put it: an elegant method of the more ecologically sane age toward which, willy-nilly, the pressures of the present are forcing us.


Net primary production and Liebig’s law are covered in most college textbooks of ecology, and if you’ve got one of those, it may be worth your while to read back through the sections discussing these two concepts.

For earthworms, Charles Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms remains the classic study, and readers who can handle the leisurely pace and extensive vocabulary of an earlier age of scientific writing shouldn’t miss it.

For bats, Merlin Tuttle’s America’s Neighborhood Bats is a good introduction, and Bat Conservation Interrnational provides extensive resources for bat house construction and other details of living around bats. For useful birds such as swallows, swifts, and martins, your local chapter of the Audubon Society can get you information about the species that are local to your area and their nesting requirements.

For bees, two books by Brian L. Griffin, The Orchard Mason Bee and Humblebee Bumblebee, are good primers with plenty of detailed information; they are written from a Pacific Northwest perspective, however, and some of their advice may need adjustment in different climates.


Chris said...

Swallows and martins are rather picky about their lodgings. They seem to prefer open areas near water. For those (like myself) who live in forested regions, the bat house you mentioned would be more appropriate for mosquito control. But do not forget the benefits of other avian species, such as bluebirds, wrens, mimic thrushes, and the various flycatchers and warblers, who (in return for the occasional treat from the garden or orchard) consume enormous quantities of insects; and the insect and rodent control efforts of hawks and owls should be recognized as well.

Gunnar Berg said...

"All of the terrestrial earthworms in Minnesota are non-native, invasive species from Europe and Asia (There is a native aquatic species that woodcock eat). At least fifteen non-native terrestrial species have been introduced so far. Studies conducted by the University of Minnesota and forest managers show that at least seven species are invading our hardwood forests and causing the loss of tree seedlings, wildflowers, and ferns.

DIYer said...

Thank you for mentioning fellow Austinite Merlin Tuttle...

A couple quick notes about our garden, and how not-ready we are to raise our own food here in the burbs: the tomatoes never amounted to anything again this year. When it gets to where it doesn't cool down below about 85° at night they simply stop blooming and become green straggly weeds. We were wondering all August, though, why the okra didn't thrive; last year it grew like anything, and kept making pods until the first frost. This year the plants never got very big.

It finally occurred to me that this year there has been more rain, and the trees in our yard and our neighbors' yard have been so successful that the garden spot only gets a little 'slice' of direct sunlight about 2 in the afternoon. The garden plants were missing their #1 most important input! (last year there was drought and the trees gave up on making leaves, while we irrigated the garden)

Mary said...

I'm in luck this week! No homework for me as I already have plenty of worms, not to mention resident bats and pollinators of every sort living on my minifarm. The bats I discovered my first year here, sitting in the attic at my pc in front of a window at night I could see them flying about. I had a pleasant/startling surprise one morning last summer when I headed down to the barn and saw a bat hanging upside down under the garage eave. I had never seen a bat hanging out there before, and haven't since. Don't know what happened to its normal hangout. Maybe an argument with Mrs. Bat?

The pollinators have been a different story this year. My usual scores of bumblebees seem sharply reduced, but replaced by a host of strangers. After some research I learned that one newcomer is a Hummingbird Moth. To be honest, I'd never seen or heard of them before. And I miss my orange-butt bees. I only saw one this year. I can't help but wonder if the change in pollinators is yet another sign of climate change...

Dalriada said...

An excellent post as usual. After several years I have finally managed to build a colony of swallows on my property, and also bats to take the night watch. I purchased a badly "human" damaged woodlot 8 years ago. It had been about 50% timbered in an effort to turn it into a maple sugar farm (monoculture of a sort). That same year an ice storm hit and made a twisted wreck of the place since many of the trees no longer had neighbors to rely on for support. We purchased it at a reasonable price and now have a guilt free source of hardwood for home heating. I have been selectively grooming and planting in order to restore a more natural balance to the forest, including restoring a hybrid disease resistant chestnut to its once native range. I made the decision to leave many dead trees standing(though not the real ugly's) since beautiful red headed and breasted woodpeckers were in abundance and I didn't wish to drive them off. Little did I know at the time that woodpeckers build some of the most wonderful natural bat houses you could ever ask for. Though parts of my property are marshy and I have a small pond, even at night the mosquitos on this deepwoods lot are now quite tolerable with no artificial help; other than their first arrival in spring until the birds and bats get working. Similarly the black flies are barely out of the gate before they are decimated. I get bitten more at a local baseball game at the high school now than I do at a campfire on my lot! Nature knows how to strike a balance, we humans just need to recognize it and learn to stay out of its way.

Andy Brown said...

I think it's worth mentioning that encouraging native plants in particular is often key to bringing in the pollinators and other local allies. Most garden shops stock all sorts of exotics, because the exotics tend to remain unblemished and un-gnawed upon. But they remain untouched precisely because they're not part of the local ecosystem. Nothing eats them and nothing uses them. I've know I've adjusted my own aesthetics to see beauty not in the plant that stands pristinely aloof, but in the one that shows all the scars of actually being part of it all.

The Onion said...

Congratulations on the forum. I'll make a point to check it out, however I don't know if I can afford to become a member. I'm already an active member on another forum related to another hobby, and I waste way too much time posting and reading there!

Regarding Bees, I read somewhere, don't remember where, a bee keeper who was convinced that top-bar hives were more resilient against colony collapse. Less stressful for the bees to allow them to build their honeycombs the way they want to supposedly.

Michael said...

After a few weeks absence of reading about annelids it is good to get back to earthworms.

Would appreciate your thoughts on the effects of aggressive turning of the soil on a healthy earthworm population. Should we be gentle?

dr-beowulf said...

I've started keeping honeybees, and while I'm no expert just yet, I do have a couple of suggestions to chip in. One is that bees need water as much as nectar and pollen. If you've got a nearby pond or ditch or some such feature that retains water most or all of the year, this may not be an issue -- but in dry regions or times, it could be a problem. The trick is to give the bees places to land so that they can drink without drowning. Our pond has plenty of duckweed and other aquatic plants, and we often see honeybees landing on them to drink. You could also put some rocks in a dish and then add water, leaving the tops of the rocks high and dry, and refilling as needed. I haven't tried this with mason bees or bumblebees, but I've got to think it would be good for them, too.

Secondly, about planting flowers to encourage pollinators: I'm not sure what the maximum foraging range of bumblebees and mason bees are, but honeybees are capable of flying over seven miles to forage. They'll stay closer to home if the foraging is good, but they'll still cover several hundred meters. In other words, you can encourage pollinators in your own garden by subtly encouraging your neighbors to plant lots of bee-friendly flowers -- even if they're not otherwise interested in your Green Wizardry. Or try guerrilla-planting them: we have a vacant lot behind our house, and I intend to carpet-bomb it with white clover seed.

Just a couple of thoughts -- I'd appreciate feedback by Wizards more learned than my humble self.

Bill Pulliam said...

Folks in eastern North America interested in being landlords for Purple Martins should go to for information on starling-resistant nest box holes. These crescent-shaped openings really do work to exclude Starlings and let in martins, but you have to cut them EXACTLY to specification! A few millimeters too big and you'll have starlings. It is also much better to have them in wood, not metal or plastic, as the birds have to squeeze in pretty tightly and can get abrasions on their backs from metal or plastic edges. Martin houses will also be used by Tree and Rough-winged Swallows if martins have not moved in or if the martins are in a tolerant mood.

DIY -- if you keep your sprangling tomato weeds alive through the summer bake-off into the cooler months, you might get a late-season crop. Tomatoes are a spring and fall crop in places with hot summer nights, which is likely to be a slowly increasing portion of the world. Cut 'em back if needed; once established, tomatoes are not especially delicate and can come back from just about anything short of a direct hit from a power lawn mower (sometimes even that). Even when they get reduced to mush by those great plains hailstorms they start to sprout back almost instantly.

On the other hand, peppers and eggplants should love those sultry nights!

Joel said...

I think the earthworms in my garden might be limited by the calcium supply. Maybe I'll pick out some half-decomposed eggshells for them next time I turn the compost pile.

Robin Datta said...

Darwin's Earthworm Book can be read online at:

The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms

or may be downloaded

in a variety of formats:

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms

and in the *.pdf format (several editions):

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms"

Brad K. said...

So . . what resources do grasshoppers rely on? That is one I would like to . . limit.

Cherokee Organics said...


Top work again! Biodiversity is the greatest asset a garden or agricultural system can have.

I actively encourage the native animals here to partake of the abundance that is around here. An oldtimer who has been in the area for a long time described it as a supermarket for the animals. Most importantly, the animals hang around.

Many years ago, local legend has it that we had the top soil taken and sold off to gardeners in Melbourne, so we have been slowly rebuilding it (even today I undertook some topsoil restoration work).

However, a couple of years ago I understood that something's resource is another's food. To this end, I have allocated a large percentage of the output of my forest garden to the local animals, who give me the gift of scats. Everyday, the eat stuff and then poo it out somewhere else and it spreads the nutrients around and fertilizes as they go.

We have wombats, wallabies and kangaroo's everyday and some of whom have made the food forest their home. Not to mention the birds and bats who provide their guano (high in phosphates which are in short supply here).

Recently, I've also started thinking about the life in the soil and the deeper the topsoil the more life there is. It covers everything from fungal growths, bacterias, worms to nematodes.

Everything gets its' share of the abundance and as long as biodiversity increases (or doesn't decrease) it all seems to be going well.

You can not garden or even broad acre farm without all of the support species that make this possible.

Good luck!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Andy Brown,

The native versus non native question brings a lot of different emotions to the table. As an example, I have neighbours who complain to me about the felling of a native tree (of which there are thousands in a mono culture) and yet feed their horses off introduced and non native pastures/grasses. It makes no sense from a rational point of view. Their horses would not survive without them.

Be careful of this argument as it is a slippery slope and we all end up being hypocrites at the end of the day.

Given that we have the entire world's ecosystem from which to choose and time is quickly running out why wouldn't we adapt the best to our particular areas?

Good luck!

void_genesis said...

Lovely post.

A couple of extensions to Liebigs law deserve mentioning.

Firstly every living thing has a slightly different talent for managing a shortage of a critical input or three. This is the main driver determining which species grow well in each situation. It is also one of the main drivers of weed explosions in enriched then depleted soil.

Secondly the most effective way to get around Liebigs law is trade. This allows the most essential limiting factor to be brought in from somewhere else where it is abundant. Every plant does this by linking up mineral/water rich underground places with light/air rich above ground places. Human societies have always done it, for example by transporting flint stones into regions where they weren't a natural geological resource. Trade is one of the main reasons for multicellularity, sociality and sex.

Finally there is an additional layer to the problems of limiting resources. Often similar essential elements (e.g. calcium and magnesium) or nutrients (e.g. similar essential amino acids) are absorbed and transported by parallel biochemical mechanisms in a living thing. This means that a shortage of one (e.g. magnesium) is made even more damaging by an excess of the other (e.g. calcium). This can be an issue for example if you enrich your soil (or diet) with one of the pair, while extracting both through harvests.

Wendy said...

When we first moved into our house thirteen years ago, it was a barren suburban lot with just a litte (very little) grass and a couple of beautiful maple trees. Our neighbor had an old apple tree that he thought was barren. After a few years of us being here and planting all sorts of flowering plants - in particular herbs -, we discovered that his apple tree is most definitely *not* barren. It just needed some pollinators, which we attracted with our herb garden. The first year his apple tree bloomed and fruited, he gave us the fruit and we made hard apple cider. It was delicious!

And earthworms! Until I read your post, I didn't realize that my propensity for using leaves as mulch rather than the more familiar suburban cedar bark mulch (which is, admittedly, prettier) was the reason for our enormous (and I'm referring to their snake-like size here) earthworm population. I guess in this case it pays to be a bit cheap and lazy ... it's much easier to simply rake the leaves into one of my garden beds than it is to rake and bag all of the leaves ... and free leaves will always be a better buy, in my opinion, that bark mulch from the garden center :).

We have a bat house, and now, I think you've given me the impetus I needed to install it properly. And as for birds - we have a beautifully diverse community of feathered friends. I don't put out bird feeders, except for suet during the winter, and I don't have any bird houses ... perhaps I should remedy that ;) ... except that they are here, already, and I wonder how much I should try to
improve on what nature has already provided me without any conscious effort on my part.

darius said...

Great post! I work in harmony with nature as best I can, including making an agreement the critters are welcome to 10% of the harvest.

There's an interesting discussion of bees, and descriptive plans for a bee hive, in The Ringing Cedars of Russia series by Vladimir Megré (in one of the first couple of books I believe). Actually there's quite a bit of discussion on what one should have/grow on one's parcel of land, and it ties in nicely with green wizardry.

Andy Brown said...

Brad K.,

Sounds like you need a good grasshopper recipe. Personally, learning to eat grasshoppers is on the list of things to learn someday, but somehow I haven't gotten around to that, yet. Cultural reluctance runs deep on that one. (Interestingly, I've noticed some late summer coyote scat that is mostly grasshopper hulls.)

Robo said...

Just yesterday (9/8/10) NPR's Diane Rehm interviewed Grace Pundyk, author of "The Honey Trail". One of the most startling things I learned was that many commercial bee keepers harvest ALL the honey from their hives, in order to maximize profits. Nothing left for the bees to eat. So how do these bee keepers keep their hives alive? They feed their bees sugar water or high-fructose corn syrup.

Junk food aviaries. Along with the toxic Chinese honey being illegally imported through Australia, these are just a few more symptoms of the systemic breakdown of our worldwide food production infrastructure, and a few more reasons to encourage native bees to live and forage in our own backyards.

sgage said...

Another good resource:

Ecology for Gardeners
by Steven B. Carrol and Steven D. Salt

It will aid your understanding of the processes and players acting in your garden, and give you plenty of things to think about while you're attending to the weeds.

Full disclosure: Steve Carrol is an old friend of mine. We spent many hours of our childhood poking around in the woods, fields, and saltmarshes near us, collecting insects, what have you.

We both ended up becoming ecologists - funny thing that! When he told me he was writing this book, I thanked him for saving me the trouble of doing it :-) said...

Brad K -

If you have lots of grasshoppers, try to get toads and lizards. Or guinea hens. I don't have the guineas because their constant racket drives me crazy, but my friend does and she has absolutely no grasshopper problems in her 1/4 acre garden. I have the toads and lizards; I bought BT that specifically states it is non toxic to bees, but I haven't sprayed any yet; the grasshopper population seems to be stabilizing and I can afford to have holey collard greens in exchange for the the lizards and toads being well fed.

I would like to know what eats squash bugs. Even my chickens won't touch them. On the other hand, I have trialed some squash bug resistant varieties this year: Serpent of Sicily, and San Marzano. They both are stellar producers and neither has been touched by the squash bugs...of course, I did let the volunteer squashes live as a 'decoy' too.

marielar said...

Just a quick note to mention that there was one economist that got von Liebig right, Karl Marx. There is a very interesting article on the Marx-Liebig connection which I would recommend for those interested in soil fertility:

Claes said...

Now, I'm not terribly impressed by neoclassical economy or by economists, but I think you are a bit unfair to them this time. What's known in biology as Liebig's law actually HAS a counterpart in economics: Leontief's production function. In the simplest case it looks like f(x,y)=min(x,y). An example: let x be the number of workers available and y be the number of shovels. The task is to dig a ditch or a hole. Clearly, if x is less than y, some shovels will remain unused and if y is less than x, then some of the workers will just lean back and relax. Exercise: plot curves of equal production! For this kind of production function there is no substitution effect.

Generalizations come for free, e.g., f(x,y)=min(x/a,y/b) with a,b positive, or f(x,y,z)=min(x/a,y/b,z/c) etc.

Cathy McGuire said...

Great post! I have just been thinking about this very topic – what allies I have in the garden and how to increase them, and how to get rid of the nasties. I have lots of ground bees, (though not so many this year – I think the wet weather must have messed up their season) and I really appreciate that hint on how to keep them from vermin – I also have too many voles, gophers and moles! I will install some bee homes underground soon, and given the Pacific NW climate, I will have to install little sheltered covers for the hose opening or they’ll drown! ;-)

And as you say the swifts are picky about their habitat, I suppose I should be honored that they nest in my chimney each spring, and I get to hear the babies peeping all summer… luckily so far they’ve migrated before it gets cold enough to need the woodstove in fall. This spring was so cold and wet, though, that I wondered if I would have to fight them for the chimney! :-) I had wondered why I was so lucky to not be bothered my mosquitoes here, even though the neighbor left his plastic pool up all last winter/spring (finally took it down in summer – go figure) – but I have seen bats, so I guess I’ve got good allies.

@DIY: When it gets to where it doesn't cool down below about 85° at night Ack! I have the opposite problem; when it gets down to 40 almost every night, the tomatoes stop growing and just sit there.

@Mary: I can't help but wonder if the change in pollinators is yet another sign of climate change... I was wondering the same thing – this year’s weird, cold spring must have knocked off a dozen species of plant and insect

Zach said...

Thanks for the primer on bumblebee habitat.

I think that, decades ago when I was a teen living on a farm with a small flock of sheep, that we accidentally hit on this method. Our variant: take the tags and low-quality trimmings from the fleeces during shearing and drop them into a black plastic garbage bag, intending to dispose of them properly "later," and leave it in an undisturbed corner of the barn. Re-discover it a few months later due to the buzzing sounds of the bumblebee colony living happily inside...


Joel said...


I've read that rotational grazing can help prevent grasshopper outbreaks. It stands to reason that grasshoppers rely on grass (including small grains).

I think it's also important to maintain predator habitat, while depriving grasshoppers of shelter from those predators in places where they might damage desirable plants.

A lot more information is available here.

Don Plummer said...

Regarding the debate over native plants, Cherokee is certainly right that it can be an emotional topic, and that it can lead to an odd sort of hypocrisy. I know some people who wouldn't plant a single exotic plant on their properties, and even some who insist that their landscapes include only specifically local genotypes--being native to the region is not enough for them.

This kind of rigidity will end the day that these folks have to start growing some of their own food. Almost all of our agricultural plants are non-natives (although, of course, they were once native to somewhere).

Nevertheless, Andy Brown is absolutely correct that native leaf-eating insects cannot nibble on exotics. Native insects and the native plants they feed on co-evolved and are adapted to each other. Exotic plant leaves have chemicals in them that the native insects' metabolism cannot cope with, so they leave them alone. (Pollinating insects are usually not so picky, since they're normally going after nectar, which is essentially sugar water and does not contain inhibiting chemicals since it's biologically in the plant's interest for the nectar to be taken--a native bee or butterfly will take nectar from just about any source, native or exotic.)

These facts are very important for anyone who wants to attract insect-eating birds--and who among us does not--because their favorite insect foods are leaf-eaters. Once again, we're talking about basic ecology: read about the food chain in your ecology textbook.

An excellent and detailed introduction to this topic is Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy. The author is an entomologist and provides many specific examples of the importance of natives in our landscapes. The book's details are specific to eastern North America--Tallamy teaches at the University of Delaware--so it would be less useful for those who live in other regions; the principles, if not the details, should hold anywhere, though.

Even the most intensively farmed plot of ground or suburban tract has room for a few native shrubs, small trees, and/or herbaceous perennials that are attractive to leaf-eaters. If you live in North America east of the Mississippi, Tallamy's book is packed with suggestions.

Maggie P said...

For those of you excited about bees and plants, there is a great website. It's a great resource.

This project has 10 sites monitored all over California for diversity and plant preference by native solitary bees. Here is an article on one of the sites where attractive bee plants were introduced. The result was greater diversity of bees in the garden and increased crop yields for gardeners.

To learn more about the various habits of native bees, a great book to find is Bees of the World by O'Toole and Raw. Check your local library.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Hi JM. You're fourth paragraph in this week's post must be one of the most basic, bedrock realities which our crazy modern Western society has attempted to over-ride -- to it's great loss.

If there's one idea which seems to help my practical efforts at running year-round-subsistence gardens on small plots of land, it's that rule that I won't -- and I shouldn't even try to -- get every bit of food that grows there for my own direct use; a considerable fraction has to be understood from the outset as the rightful share of many other creatures. And allowing, and indeed encouraging, them to take what's theirs is good for us all -- including the human members of this little local ecosystem.

Acting always on this rule saves an awful lot of futile effort trying to remove or prevent 'pests' (nasty, deceitful word to libel some of our fellow living beings!), and saves us from the constant unnecessary worry of even entertaining such a bad idea.

For example, I still have a modest population of slug and snail neighbours about. They produce no noticeable trouble. I'd be sorry if they vanished, because that would then be one less food source for my little gang of Muscovy duck friends. (Engaging birds!)

Sure, there are one or two famous species which humans find it difficult to love. But live and let live has to apply to them too. Steering the garden situation a little so that they don't become seemingly intolerable to us is all that we need to do. It also seems to me to demand a lot less effort and worry when we do things that way.

Rita said...

Beware of suggestions in old beekeeping books and journals. As late as the 1980s beekeepers were encouraged to spread purple loosestrife to marshy areas. Good for the bees _but_ bad for the wetlands. Purple loosestrife is considered an invasive plant because it dries the ground and destroys habitat for native plants and animals. So check before spreading anything.

frijolitofarmer said...

Any idea what impact, if any, swallows, swifts, and martins have on bees? I have bats and am about to start raising honeybees. I'd like to welcome other beneficial birds, too, but not if they're going to eat my bees.

I'm also wondering whether I've helped or hurt the productivity of my small grove of pawpaws by placing a large (about three cubic yards at this point) compost pile a few hundred feet away. Pawpaws are pollinated by flies. The abundance of chicken manure in my compost, as well as an occasional dead chicken, is breeding and feeding lots of flies. I'm not sure whether this helps the pawpaws get pollinated by increasing the population of pollinators, or whether the compost--being a more attractive food source--would actually draw flies away from the pawpaws. This is the first year I've had the pile there, and the first year (out of two years of observation) that I've seen fruit on the pawpaw trees, so I think further observation is necessary before I can draw any conclusions.

Do swifts, swallows, and martins eat flies?

Don Plummer said...

Off-topic, but there's a rather interesting discussion of your Archdruid credentials over on Sharon Astyk's blog. It's the thread that began with Sharon's reply to the discussion between you and Rob Hopkins.

I wondered if you had any thoughts or wanted to weigh in.


sekenre said...

I'll post this on the Forum too, but in Britain, in addition to bats, birds and pollinating insects, we have the humble hedgehog who is apparently a great eater of Slugs. Here's a guide to making a hedgehog shelter to encourage them to appear.

British Hedgehog Preservation Society

TG said...

We've had bats in our refrigerator. On purpose.

One February, there was an unusual warm spell which woke a few bats. Two big browns scouted their way into the lower level of the natural history museum where I worked at the time. Specifically, they were fluttering around the mummy storage room. Gave the staff quite a start, as you might imagine.

Since there was little for bats to eat at that time of year, the local naturalist suggested they'd have a better chance of survival if we could put them back into hibernation right away and release them around the start of April. So we tucked each bat into a big empty pickle jar with air holes pounded in the lid. We stored them in the vegetable crisper drawer at the bottom of the fridge.

The story has a half-happy ending. I was able to revive one of the bats when the bugs started flying. He was hissing mad, but I safely placed him in our bat house (the first and only time it's been used--we've followed the recommendations for placement and still have trouble attracting bats, probably because there's not enough water in our neighborhood). He spent the afternoon and evening recovering in there, departing sometime during the night. The other bat had very little fat on him and never woke up.

I'm sure no one reading this will ever want to eat at our house now. ;-P

There are a lot of bumblebees visiting our yard this year. More than I've ever seen before. It's neat that hive boxes can be built for them. I had no idea. I'll have to watch them more carefully and see if I can follow where they go when they leave the flowers. I'd be curious to know where they've made their hive.

--Tracy Glomski

idiotgrrl said...

I would love to put in a bat house. But Dufus Claudius, my senior cat, is a mighty subsistence hunter. I don't mind him bringing home and eating mice, or any of the very abundant city birds, but I draw the line at bats. What do you suggest?

BTW, I am in Albuquerque NM and sorely need to get my soil tested. The composter finally, finally will be delivered Saturday at the earliest, possibly Monday. Sigh. New Mexico delays.

Houyhnhnm said...

All that you speak of here, JMG, is dear to my heart. I've spent the last thirty years building a home for small wildlife.

For the first two years on our place, I saw not one earthworm. Now, thirty years on, one swipe with the harrow often turns up hundreds. Not unexpectedly, we host many nesting pairs of robins each spring.

Better yet, we have returning pairs of barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds, so the local mosquito population is held in check, which is vital here since we are a West Nile hot spot. This year I held up hay delivery because barn swallows nested in the hay shed. Happily, all three of the nestlings zipped into the sky and hay is now stacked to within a foot of the empty mud nest.

Along with native grasses and wildflowers, I also planted American plums, golden currants, and Woods' roses, so our place is a popular bird and bee stop. One year we even had wild honey bees behind the kickboards of my late stallion's stall.

Many of our neighbors are similarly active. A neighbor across the road manages two hives. The neighbor to the south put bee boards in his shed and then added bat boxes.

Watching the bats fly at night is as endearing as watching the swallows flit during the day.

The High Plains can bloom with a lot of work and a little irrigation water.


Petro said...

Congratulations on the activity at the new site. This is good news for all of us!

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, by all means adjust your choices to the nature of your ecosystem. What I mentioned were simply examples.

Gunnar, this is one of the reasons I don't favor importing worms from elsewhere.

DIYer, it's been a weird year. Our tomatoes, onions, beans and peas did very well, while some other crops didn't produce at all -- of course this is our first season here and we'll see how things go in the seasons to come.

Mary, climate change is certainly part of it; more broadly, a lot of ecosystems are becoming unstable for a whole slew of reasons. I'll be discussing that down the road.

Dalriada, that's wonderful to hear. I hadn't known about woodpecker nests as bat houses -- that may be a reason why we have lots of bats; we've got a green belt right next door, and plenty of woodpeckers and flickers in it.

Andy, an excellent point, which I'll include in the book.

Onion, thank you. That's worth knowing.

Michael, I prefer a lazy approach to gardening, and thus don't get aggressive about much of anything; I don't know if that helps the earthworms, but it certainly doesn't seem to hurt!

Dr. Beowulf, honeybees are unusual in the amount of distance they can cover; many wild bees have a much shorter range. Still, planting bee plants all over the place can't hurt!

Bill, thanks for the link! We have mostly swifts here, and enough that I haven't seen a point in putting in houses, but I'll check into their needs in case.

Joel, why do you think that? Just curious...

Robin, many thanks!

John Michael Greer said...

Brad, I'm not sure. It would be a good research project. You can also find out what likes to eat them, and figure out how to boost the population of grasshopper predators.

Cherokee, exactly. The more diverse and complex an ecosystem is, besides, the more stable it is and the more easily it resists disruption.

Void, all good points. One of the drawbacks of the blog format is that there isn't really space to go into all the details.

Wendy, excellent. I'm also a big fan of fallen leaves -- it doesn't hurt that we've got a bunch of big maples next to our garden, so we get plenty.

Darius, I should probably make time to read those someday.

Andy, there's a book I read many years ago with the fine title Butterflies In My Stomach: The Role of Insects in Human Nutrition. As I recall, it had recipes for grasshopper.

Robo, that's par for the course these days, but it's still appalling. It's exactly this attitude of "all for us and nothing for other living things" that's landing us in a world of hurt.

Sgage, thank you for the recommendation! I'll take a look at it.

Tinfoil, garter snakes are also good grasshopper predators, as I recall. Might be worth studying the limiting factors for reptiles and amphibians generally.

Marielar, that's fascinating. I wasn't aware of that.

Claes, interesting. I wonder why it is, then, that so many neoclassical economists explicitly deny that Liebig's law applies to the relationship between human beings and natural resources.

Cathy, some people who do bumblebee boxes in wet climates dig them in right next to a house or shed, where they're sheltered from the rain by the roof overhang, and make sure the hose comes up in a high spot so water won't get into it. The bees seem content with that.

John Michael Greer said...

Zach, that's a great story.

Joel, thanks for the link.

Don, thanks for the book recommendation! That sounds very useful indeed.

Maggie, many thanks for the resources. Please make sure all these get onto the forum!

Rhisiart, exactly. The virtue of generosity applies to nature as well as to our own species, and has the same payback.

Rita, "check before spreading anything" is good advice generally.

Farmer, don't grudge the birds their dinners. Thinking of "your" bees is exactly the mistake I was trying to critique; to begin with, they're nature's bees, not yours; and since birds don't take out whole hives, just individuals, they provide a useful service by taking the weak and sick individuals.

Don, yes, I saw that. Trolls will be trolls, I suppose, but it's astonishing what garbage people will make up when they can hide behind the protection of an internet alias.

Sekenre, I wish hedgehogs were native to this continent! A fine, harmless, and very useful mammal.

Tracy, that's a great story. Bats roused too early from hibernation rarely survive; you did well to save one.

Grrl, I've never heard of a cat catching a bat. I'm sure it must happen now and then, but it's very rare. Your senior cat will have to be truly mighty to bring one down!

Houyhnhnm, thank you for an inspiring account! Agreed about watching bats at night -- they're charming creatures, even apart from their feats of mosquito-slaying.

John Michael Greer said...

Petro, thank you. I'm certainly happy about it.

sgage said...

Speaking of slug predators... fireflies! Lightning bugs! Whatever you call them, both the larvae and adults will eat slugs and slug eggs. Plus they are utterly, awesomely beautiful. The world could easily have been arranged such that there were no fireflies, but instead, we lucked out.

And I agree with everyone who loves to see the bats flitting about. They are friends and allies.

Richard said...

It's true that many exotic plants have a lack of natural enemies. However, nature abhors a vacuum, sooner or later something will learn to eat it, and often not even that much time is required, as insects, bacteris and fungi evolve much quicker than larger life due to their short generational period.

Two hundred years ago peach trees, which are exotics in North America, spread so rapidly in the mid-atlantic that some worried areas were becoming a "wilderness of peach trees". Now, although you occasionally find a wild peach tree, it's not on anybody's list of invasives, and as anybody who grows them knows, they have plenty of natural enemies. The same for the rest of our common non-native food crops, they've got plenty of natural enemies. Some more unusual crops still don't, the jujube trees I've planted have so far lived up to their reputation as being pretty much pest-free, but I do wonder how long that will last, especially if they became more widely planted. After all, apples are exotics and they have a huge number of pests and diseases in North America, some of those are imports as well but many are natives that lived on related species and made the jump to apples.

I certainly wouldn't plant any of the real agressive invaders such as japanese stilt grass, oriental bittersweet or kudzu (or whatever the equivalents are in your area), however the majority of exotics are much more tame than that and if there's a good reason to include them in your plantings, I would do the research to see how aggressive they are but wouldn't stop just because they're exotic. I also am an advocate for planting native plants and conserving them too, I just don't believe the more extreme proclamations made about exotics, they are usually made from extrapolation of current trends, which don't go on forever. Also, Monsanto and other chemical companies like the more extreme ant-exotic people, herbicides are often used in the battles against exotics.

Ruben said...


Just to further incense you, some commercial beekeepers gas their hives in the fall so they don't have the trouble of wintering the bees over.

I started beekeeping this year. My favourite webistes about natural beekeeping are:

Glenn said...

Curiously enough, 30 years ago when my first wife and I lived in a second story apartment on Hargadine St. in Ashland, Oregon, our tabby cat, Mercury, caught a bat. My wife thought he was playing with a piece of carbon paper until it tried to fly out of the room. It died of excessive cat play and we took it to the vet to have it tested for rabies. As I recall, part of the bill was "bus fare for bat" as that is how they shipped it off to the state lab, since the P.O. didn't want to handle deceased flying rodents.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy McGuire and all,

@Mary: I can't help but wonder if the change in pollinators is yet another sign of climate change... I was wondering the same thing – this year’s weird, cold spring must have knocked off a dozen species of plant and insect

One way to get around this is (if you have the space) to plant a large diversity of species.

Last year in our Spring, we had a 2 week heat wave through the middle of the major flowering period for the fruit trees. A lot of the blossoms fell of the trees as they went into shock. No blossoms = no fruit.

The early and late varieties cropped well, but the others... Oh well.

It was a bit of a drama too, because that Spring followed the previous summer where we had no rain for two months. The lack of rain didn't kill the fruit trees but they didn't produce enough new wood (which produces fruit the following season in a lot of cases).

I've also noticed that when you get a good year for yellow stone fruit, it's a bad one for the white stone fruit and vice versa.

I guess the summary is that variability in climate and conditions is the norm and not the exception. You just never know how it will go from one season to the next.

Good luck!

Andy Brown said...

I'm no militant when it comes to native versus exotics, but here's my take on it. I have a small, but slowly growing patch of a pretty native plant, pussytoe, growing in the yard. I've stopped mowing there so it's been able to flower and seed in peace the last couple of years. Well this summer, the most common butterfly around the garden has been a gorgeous little thing I managed to identify as a Pecks Skipper. And according to the field guide the larval foodplants for this skipper are everlastings and pussytoes. So for a few square feet of unmown lawn I get a nice population of beautiful and energetic pollinators. Those kinds of inter-relationships are happening invisibly all around, (and I believe, most intensely with the native plants and their co-evolved creatures).

Zach said...


It's hard for me to imagine peach trees as an invasive -- that's interesting to know.

I am waiting impatiently for something native to figure out how to eat Emerald Ash Borers -- Ann Arbor, for example, was once heavily planted to them, and their loss is like the loss in the 70's of the beautiful old elms due to Dutch Elm disease.

I did once spot a woodpecker working at some ash tree's bark, so I have hope.

This has also given me the opportunity to notice how resilient trees can be -- ash trees killed down to the ground by the borers still valiantly send up sucker shoots -- which are too immature for the borers to care for. So I can see where, left to themselves, the ash trees would regenerate waiting for the rest of the ecosystem to figure out how to digest the new food source.


Bill Pulliam said...

Re: The strangeness in Astyk's comment section...

Making ad hominem attacks against those you perceive as your critics is generally a bad sign; fortunately it seems there were only a couple of hotheads in particular who indulged in that.

But, of course, I know for a fact that JMG is a public masticator, and strongly suspect that he is a pogonophile.

Ksmcc said...

(Please excuse any multiple comments: Blogger keeps giving me error messages!)
There are excellent instructions, including diagrams, for making bee nesting houses in a publication from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, "Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators: Enhancing their Habitat in Maine," at

greenJamie said...

Congratulations on your forum numbers JMG :D

Don Plummer said...


Nobody is sure in all cases how long it will take for native leaf-eating insects to become adapted to exotic species. Undoubtedly it will differ in each case. Most leaf-eaters are rather specific; some will only consume leaves of a single species. Others are "generalists"; they are more likely to make the jump to an exotic species.

Doug Tallamy gives an example. The common reed grass of lake and pond shores, Phragmites austrails, a native of Europe, has been in North America for close to 400 years. In its homeland, some 170 species of insect dine on the leaves. Here in North America, after almost 400 years, only five native species of leaf-eating insects munch on the leaves. Eventually, of course, natural selection will adapt more insects to this species. But the process is too slow to make any difference for us.

Twilight said...

Here in PA were inundated with invasive plants and insects - Japanese knotweed and stiltgrass, autumn olive, wineberries, multifloral roses, a host of vines I don't recognize, orange ladybugs, giant Asian hornets, etc. And now those lovely stink bugs. They're all here to stay - there is no hope of eradicating them. Just have to adapt - at least the wineberries are wonderful.

Still my two biggest concerns are the white nose syndrome and sudden oak death. The impact of losing the bats and the oaks would be devastating.

An old barn is a big bat house, and ours is no exception - but the last couple of years I've worried that none would be left in the spring. There are still a few flying, but not many - I'm hoping that a few isolated colonies will survive, and that maybe a barn is less conducive to white nose than a cave. Without the bats and the valuable service they provide, the local farmers will need to pour on even more pesticides.

Unfortunately our barn cat has been pretty proficient at catching bats in years past. I do not know how - maybe she climbs up for them.

firewire7 said...

About the grasshopper plague: years ago in Organic Gardening and Farming magazine there was an article about how to attack any insect whose overpopulation was damaging your plants.

Go to the garden and handpick a number of the target species, looking especially for ones that look kind of sick (I don't know how you would do that). Place them in a food blender dedicated to this purpose and whiz them up with some water. Strain the liquid and spray it on your garden. The target species will get sick and die.

I would probably label the blender jar pretty well if I were going to do this.

Joel said...

>Why do you think that?

I keep a thick mulch on the soil, and make sure there are always roots rotting in it.

I have the sort of heavy clay soil that binds permanently to free calcium. A small amount of gypsum, added right as I was beginning to garden, seems to have done it a lot of good.

I've read that worm populations often increase dramatically after the application of agricultural lime to pasture land.

It's true that milk hasn't been produced and exported from this land, but garden vegetables do contain a significant amount of calcium, and I don't have a closed-loop system.

I compost eggshells, but haven't applied much compost to the garden bed at all, in favor of expanding the container garden I keep on my patio. For the actual garden plot, I mostly rely on N-fixing plants, a nutrient-rich mulch, and occasional top-dressing with coffee grounds.

Richard said...

Don, I'm aware that it will take different amounts of time for different introduces species to get into balance. Perhaps it has to do with how close relatives it has, peaches and apples for example both have many native relatives, if you know of any studies that go into that I would like to hear of them. As I stated before I do agree there are aggressive introduced species that are causing harm to natives (although in many instances there are human-caused environmental changes that are favoring those particular exotics, such as habitat fragmentaion, high deer density, absence of other large grazers, fire suppression, air pollution and nitrogen deposition, and increasingly now climate change).

However I have also seen people claim things that are exaggerations or plat out lies about exotics. When I lived in Minnesota European Buckthorn was one invasive, and although it's true that it does form dense thickets, I once saw a flier advocating buckthorn removal stating that buckthorn is fast growing, has no natural enemies, is drought reasistant, and nothing grows underneath it. In actuality, it's growth rate is moderate compared to many trees, I knew well an old field that was a 15-year-old young woods, where the tallest buckthorn was half as high as the tallest aspen, oak, walnut, and boxelder saplings. While it does likely have fewer natural enemies than most natives, the repeated assertion I saw that it has none was proven wrong by the orange spots that appeared every late spring/early summer on the leaves of many plants, obviously a fungal growth although I couldn't find out what. I also noticed one dry summer when certain stands had a lot of dieback, it was either the drought, an unknown natural enemy or a combination. Finally, I would like to show those who state nothing ever grows ungerenath it the dense healthy stands of native trout lilies under a buckthorn stand that was about as dense as they get. Similarly I'd seen sugar maple seedlings growing underneath such stands, and larger saplings growing right through the short buckthorn canopy. Also hackberries in some places although mot the densest stands. Most stands didn't have much else growing under them because they invaded what used to be more open woodlands or savannas before fire suppression and eradication of the herds of buffalo and elk. The deer don't like the buckthorn, and they're now often at much higher densities with regard to available habitat than historically, and they're eating many of the native plants even where there wasn't buckthorn.

Where I am now in the Missouri ozarks there are exotics around but at least where I am they tend to stick to at least somewhat disturbed areas.


Brad said... help - I registered for the site with my address, but I never got the confirm email; anyone else have this problem? should i re-register w/ a different e-mail acct?

Cathy McGuire said...

@Bill P: But, of course, I know for a fact that JMG is a public masticator, and strongly suspect that he is a pogonophile. And a
loganamnosist such as yourself will be one of the most likely to know! ;-) Your lepid style has carried through many comments here, and though you might not be latifundian, you are definitely impavid. :-D

Thardiust said...

Here's some interesting links about urban farming and fresh water filtering.

Rita said...

I have not used it, since I have no wild land to restore, but a useful appearing book is _The Earth Manual: How to work on Wild Land Without Taming It_ by Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books, Berkeley, 1973. Margolin was involved in conservation projects in the East Bay Regional Parks. The book include information on increasing food supplies and habitat for wildlife, controlling erosian, restoring native vegetation, and so forth.

One of the decorative leather books on my parents shelves turns out to be a 1916 farming guide. _Successful Farming_ by Frank D. Gardner, The Smithsonian Co. , Oakland, CA. While it includes discussion of chemical fertilizers and insecticides it also discusses manure, green manure, control of weeds and pests through cultivation and crop rotation, etc. It seems intended to be a complete guide for every aspect of farm life, including the design of the farm house and outbuildings. It seems to advocate the introduction of machinery, but many of the photos show horses at work. Afraid I don't know enough to evaluate it, but if other readers are near an agricultural college a copy may be lurking in the stacks.

owlfan said...

My cat has managed to bring down 2 bats just this summer. I'm hoping this means that we have a large population of bats around. We certainly have the mosquitos to feed them, as somehow they seem to be breeding in the screened rain barrel.

joanhello said...

Tying together two threads here: only the pregnant mosquito goes for blood. Tt's one of those cravings, like pickles and ice cream. Males and non-pregnant females are pollinators, mainly of flowers too small to interest bees and wasps. In areas where mosquitoes have been wiped out, the local extinction of the flowering plants that depend on them has soon followed. One of the advantages of building mosquito predator habitat instead of spraying is that mosquitoes away from your property are left alone to fulfill their natural function, and perhaps to discourage teenagers looking for a place in the woods where they can get drunk and make a mess.

On another subject, here are a couple of edible-insect links:

Richard said...

The first half of my last post went through but not the second half, is there some reason it isn't shown or just a glitch in blogger?

Anne said...

Agreeing with Gunnar Berg.. majority of earthworm species are non-native and the vermicomposting craze has only spread their advancement at record pace (which otherwise is only about 10 to 15 feet per year).

While earthworms are helpful in agriculture, they also radically alter soils in areas that have evolved specifically without them. (Hope you don't mind paying more for maple syrup.. sugar maples are stressed by the changes the worms make.)

There are several thousand species, some only able to be positively ID'd by DNA.

They reduce particle size in soil, so if you garden with them.. add compost regularly.

tubaplayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Pulliam said...

(entirely off topic) Pogonophilia brings up one of the greatest mysteries of the "peak oil community:"

Why doesn't Derrick Jensen have a beard?

Smith Mill Creek Notes said...

Apropos of dissensus:

tubaplayer said...

Another excellent read JMG.

I particulary like the bit about leaving something for the rest - whatever the wording.

My neighbours cannot understand why I actually like having a fair amount of my plot as a meadow. The goats like it. The birds, bees and praying mantises like it. The lizards and snakes like it.

There are fruit and nut trees that provide more fruit and nuts than I could possibly deal with. I take what I need for myself, some goes into the goats and the rest is left for the rest - for nature to dispose of and nurture countless other species. I hope that I am doing something right!

Guilherme de Baskerville said...

Hey there, Archdruid (I'm a RPG player and it's funny that I get to use this line for real, outside the game, hehehe)

No need to post this if you don't want too, I just couldn't figure a quick way to contact you other then the comments.

Just wanted to send you a link to Orlov's latest blog post, in case you haven't stumbled upon it already (unlikely, I know, but I had to try anyway):

The post seems to echo a lot of what I perceive as your own ideas on this issue. It's much snarkier and, I guess, fun, in that russian way that Orlov has, but the core issues seem to be the same. Just wanted to give you an heads up, and maybe see your opnion on this, if you feel like commenting.

Jean said...

darius said...
Great post! I work in harmony with nature as best I can, including making an agreement the critters are welcome to 10% of the harvest

I had to smile when I read this. I also have an agreement - mostly with the grasshoppers. So far they have mostly just hung out and fornicated in my pole beans and have done very little damage.