Bring Beneficial Organisms into Your Garden

Learn how beneficial organisms such as worms and even bats can help maintain the balance of your ecosystem.

  • “Green Wizardry,” by John Michael Greer, is a valuable resource for anyone concerned about decreasing our dependence on an overloaded industrial system and making life a great deal less traumatic and more livable.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers
  • Put more organic matter into your garden’s soil to help infant earthworms mature into big, healthy topsoil makers.
    Photo by Fotolia/zest_marina

Green Wizardry (New Society Publishers, 2013), by John Michael Greer, proposes a modern mage for uncertain times, one who possesses a vast array of practical skills gleaned from the appropriate tech and organic gardening movements forged in the energy crisis of the 1970s. From the basic concepts of ecology to a plethora of practical techniques such as composting, green manure, low-tech food preservation and storage and more, Greer provides a comprehensive manual for today’s wizard-in-training. The following excerpt from Lesson 14, “Wild Helpers,” describes how beneficial organisms can assist you with your organic garden.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Green Wizardry.

There’s a great line in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One where the English nobleman, Hotspur, and the Welsh wizard, Owen Glendower, are quarreling. “I can call spirits from the vasty deep,” Glendower insists, and Hotspur comes right back: “Why, so can I, and so can any man; But do they come when you do call them?” Funny as it is, the quarrel points up one of the things that wizards have traditionally been able to do, and, as a green wizard, you need to be able to do something similar. By the time you’ve finished with this lesson, you may not be able to call spirits from the vasty deep, but you’ll have started learning 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 by reviewing some basic concepts. A garden is an ecosystem managed so that human beings get to eat a significant portion 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 an 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. Your goal instead is to make sure that as much as possible of the net primary production diverted from your table 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 least jot of common sense 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, the same Charles Darwin who wrote The Origin of Species — wrote a brilliant 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.

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