Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ecosystem Services in Farming...and Gardening

Earlier this week, I was sitting in a cafe reading a great book about ecosystem services titled, "Nature in the Marketplace" by Geoffrey Heal. In the chapter about "Policies and Institutions", Heal discusses the decline in not only pollinators, but also predators of agricultural pests that has resulted from the vast size and monoculture nature of mega-agricultural fields.

Birds (key predators of insect pests), he notes, "generally do not fly across wide expanses, preferring to move from greenway to greenway." He continues:

And indeed, the traditional farm was edged by woods and broken up with hedgerows. There is clear evidence that such a structure gives greatly improved natural protection against pests. Even in the case of large farming operations, preserving small amounts of natural habitat in the form of woods and copses and providing hedgerows can lead to thriving populations of wildlife. Because they act as both pollinators and as predators of many common pests, this can be a cost effective approach to pest control and pollination. It may also lead to crops with higher market value, as consumers are often willing to pay more for food grown without pesticides.

Reading this made me think about something interesting that happened in my own organic garden recently - in which we plant tomatoes, various types of hot peppers, chives, corn, beans, peas, zucchini squash, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, and a bunch of culinary herbs. To attract pollinators, we maintain strips of native California grasses and wildflowers at each end of the garden, and in an island in the middle (it also looks very nice, and is a nice backdrop for our solar fountain).

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord told me he was going to have gardeners come by the house. I emphatically told him to please make sure they don't touch the garden. We were surprised to come home the night the gardeners had come and find that all of our grasses and wildflowers had been pulled. The garden had been left completely bare except for our food and herb plants - a few of which were actually missing (they pulled 2 productive bean plants, our dill weed, and a bunch of mint and oregano). When I called and yelled at the landlord about the demolition of our garden, he told me that it had looked "messy", so he had the gardeners cut all the native grasses and wildflowers. (he's not the brightest bulb, to be sure)

Suddenly this week when I went to harvest tomatoes for a fresh batch of salsa, I noticed something interesting. There were snails eating our tomatoes. We'd had no problem with snails until the gardeners had removed all the native grasses and wildflowers. It seems that the grasses and wildflowers not only helped to attract pollinators, but also to control pests! They must have kept the snails well enough fed that they didn't need to eat our fruits and vegetables. Either that, or some type of snail predator had lived in the grasses and wildflowers.

This observation of the pest control benefits of maintaining strips of native grassland plants in our garden seemed to be a mini-example of what Heal was talking about concerning the benefits of maintaining hedge rows in large agricultural fields.

Have any of you experienced anything similar to this in your garden?


  1. Good stuff! See also:

  2. Anonymous4:34 PM

    How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth......

    There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth - we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species - already over 50% of these thousand pests are already resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to "man's footprint". But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to "keep up"! Even with all of this expensive and unnecessary pollution - we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year.

    We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe "knowledge drought" - a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the "right way". The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage.

    National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D'Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States - No one is checking chronic contamination.
    In order to try to help "stem the tide", I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,800 pages in length and is now being updated at my new website at .

    This new website at has been basically updated; all we have left to update is Chapter 39 and to renumber the pages. All of these copyrighted items are free for you to read and/or download. There is simply no need to POISON yourself or your family or to have any pest problems.

    Stephen L. Tvedten
    2530 Hayes Street
    Marne, Michigan 49435
    "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." --Victor Hugo