Being a Pest

I want to talk about getting a balance in your garden, I want to talk about herbicides and pesticides. At the start I want to state for the record that I wasn't always organic. In fact when we started our garden at Pig Row, I used weedkiller, I am not proud of this and though it gave instant results, in that it cleared problem patches of perennial weeds, it did have long term effects. I could argue that due to having a disability that weedkiller made my life easier, and therein lies the failure of the argument, no one said growing your own was easy, no one said nature was easy. We can trace the contemporary idea that gardening is easy, that gardens are low maintenance back to the nineties and a certain television programme that showed up, bulldozed your garden and put down mile after mile of decking. The upside of this craze was that a decade and a half later, the people who rushed out to the DIY stores at the weekend to buy slippy decking are now ripping the stuff up after a slip too many. This decking comes into use at Pig Row as shelves, raised beds and kindling. We are literally burning a nineties phenomenon to stay warm. However, television has for decades been trying to convince people that in one weekend, in one day they could transform their garden. You can but not for good, as gardens are not static. At Drovers, were I was organic (I think my lapse was due to the daunting size of Pig Row), I was accused by Carol of always tinkering with it. This tinkering was my training and my attempt to learn what made that small garden tick. I learnt slowly that gardens have their own rhythm, their own soul and from the bacteria in the soil up to us, they are all different. These are not to be seen as problems, to be attacked head on, rather they should be worked with to place yourself within that landscape fully integrated. I have started to learn to tinker again at Pig Row. More than anytime since DDT we have embraced weedkillers and pest sprays in an attempt to control nature. We see this in monoculture farming and we replicate it in our back gardens. This is were the revolution should start, we should chuck out the weedkillers, the pest sprays and the chemical feeds. We are not doing a favour to our gardens, we are not clearing space for something more useful, we are being selfish. We are putting ourselves above the balance of nature, and the balance of a plot of land we own. I am not saying that we cannot grow what we love or that we cannot grow what we eat but we can learn what works best for our gardens and plots. We can promote bee friendly, butterfly friendly and moth friendly gardens through our choice of planting. We can ditch the chemicals and promote good soil structure and bacterial growth that will protect your plants, give you great crops and won't leave you with a soil like dust. It's happened in farming and could happen on your piece of land unless you learn to live and learn from it. 

You may have heard of neonicotinoids in the media recently. These are harmful chemicals that effect bees and bumble bees, they have been linked to the decline of bee colonies and the death of hives. What you may not be aware of is that some of these chemicals are used to coat seed, this gives the seed a chemical fix to promote strongth growth and out compete their environment and up to '90 percent of US corn seeds' are coated, 'and seeds of increasing portions of other major crops like soy' and these have been linked 'as a likely trigger for colony collapse disorder' (source: Tom Philpott). This has been central to the EU's request to have two year ban on coated seeds that the UK abstained to vote on. But let's get back to what happened when I sprayed at Pig Row in 2011. Even though I was selective, even though I was careful, I noted some changes. Let's call it an imbalance, like humans throughout the world, I had come into what I deemed, and the estate agent who sold us the house, a derelict garden - an unused space choked by brambles and willow herb. I immediately stripped it back and destroyed a habitat. There is no way around that, I did it using weedkillers, stump killers and a strimmer. I am not alone in this, you only have to walk into supermarkets, DIY stores and garden centres at this time of year to see shelf after shelf of promotional weedkillers. It simple economics or supply and demand, we demand it. I didn't see the immediate impact of spraying until 2012. 

Dump chemicals or pay the piper.

2011 was a good year for us, we had plenty of vegetables at the end season but as the season went on I noticed a decline in bees and butterflies, and I also noticed that the soil seemed thinner, drier, dead. To that end I ran an experiment in a corner of the garden I hadn't sprayed, adding organic mulch and covering before planting through in 2012.  In 2012 I could have put the lack of bees and butterflies down to the worst summer we'd had in a long time but that would be passing the buck, finding another excuse rather than a solution. The organic bed I created proved this, the bed thrived whilst other beds suffered and died. That's what started my desire to set things right and get back to my organic roots. 

Planting through mulches and no dig will help your soil.

In 2012 we were also hit by one of the worst infestations of sheep's sorrel in every other bed than the organic one - though a medicinal plant, sheep's sorrel is invasive and chokes other plants. My initial spraying in early 2011 had woken up these dormant seeds and now I had a full on revolt in the border. I could have reached for the weedkiller again but I didn't, instead I studied the plant, found it's life cycle and dug it out, inch by inch, over hundreds of feet. I did my penance and as I cleared I resowed those areas with plants that locked in nitrogen to the soil and were rich in nectar. To that end I have even started a bee bank, to promote, protect and support bees, butterflies and moths. There will be flowers throughout the garden, even the fruit has been selected for the flowers that support wildlife. The strimmer will only be used to the clear the orchard once a year, to promote seed dispersal rather than every fortnight. I will embrace mulches and no digging to protect the soil.

Why you shouldn't use chemicals in your garden?

You may still, as I write this, be reaching for the sprays, the growth hormone chemicals and the coated seed. You may swear by them, but stop for a moment and understand a few things, nature finds a balance. As one of our members pointed out on our Facebook Page, 'in 2011 I was overrun with green and blackfly so sent off for organic pest the time it arrived good bugs had moved in and killed them all off'. Sometimes, all we need is time or else as another Pig Rower said on our Facebook Page 'May as well give out free cough sweets with every pack of 20 Marlboro lights as well'. Now we all know the link there, so why aren't we making the link with the food we eat, the plants we sow and the land we live with? For the record, I will never reach for a chemical spray again, I will never seek to destroy the soil and break the cycle between bacteria, bees, butterflies, bugs, plants and me. Nature finds a balance and we have to be in that balance, work with it not against it.

Don't spray and you will end up with a more productive space.