Healthy or Sterile?: Creating Biodiverse Systems

Reader Contribution by David R. Braden Iv
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Have you heard of the vanishing bees? You may know that commercial beekeepers are reporting losses of more than 30% of their colonies every year. Implicated in those losses is a class of pesticides known as systemics that show up in both the pollen and nectar of plants that have been treated. These poisons are common in insecticides sold to the public and in the potting soil of the plants that you buy.

Because pollinators are so important to the human food supply this is a great opportunity to examine our use of poisons. The issue goes beyond which pesticides are too harmful and which pesticides are acceptably dangerous. Here is the question; “Do you want a healthy system or a sterile system?”

Healthy Systems vs. Sterile Systems

When we use a poison to eliminate some species from our yard there is a series of consequences.  It is not only the collateral damage from the poison – all the bugs that die from direct contact with the poison. It is all the species that rely on the one we poisoned. And all the species that rely on those species. That process leads toward a sterile system and the end result of that process is a hospital-like environment. In hospitals, the only things that grow are super bugs that cannot be killed.

The most beautiful places you have ever been are healthy systems. They are healthy because they have a full range of species participating. They are complete food webs that process nutrients through complete growth, decay, and regrowth cycles in quantities that allow the participation of many species.

Industrial agriculture argues that it is necessary to grow food in monocultures — large areas of a single crop — if we are going to feed the world. So the argument goes, poisons are necessary to protect the crops when you grow a monoculture. This process and the use of poisons leads to huge acreages of essentially sterile cropland where nothing grows except those species that become resistant to the poisons used.

Yard and Garden Polycultures

We do not need to have this argument in a suburban landscape. Our yards and gardens can be polycultures and we have space for all the predators of all the pests. No one is going to starve if we lose this plant or that to insect damage, and the more we tolerate pest species, the quicker we attract their predators. We can assist nature in becoming healthy by encouraging a full range of species. As the ecosystem in our yards becomes healthy, it will also become correspondingly beautiful.

When we poison the aphids on our roses, we prevent lady beetles from participating in our garden, leading in the direction of a sterile system. When we think of aphids as food for lady beetles our garden starts to regain its health. A healthy system needs all its parts.

This is your habitat. Do you want it to be sterile or healthy? If you want it to be healthy, here is the deal: Someone is going to have to talk to that neighbor down the street who is using these poisons, or hiring people who use these poisons, thinking that they are safe. That neighbor believes that the poison is necessary to protect their investment in their plants and does not realize that they are damaging the health of the habitat. They are not going to listen to me, that radical environmentalist. They are not going to listen to some politician pandering for votes.  Most will at least hear out a neighbor.

The conversation does not have to be confrontational. It is essentially the opening paragraph to this blog. Even the most committed user of poisons understands the necessity for pollinators and even if they do not sign on right away, they will be watching as we demonstrate how beautiful a healthy habitat can be. If that conversation does not take place the damage will continue and build on itself leading in the direction of a hospital environment.

This is about changing the standard for landscaping in our habitat. We know it is possible because we know that people prefer beautiful places to hospitals. But someone has to have that conversation.

Bee Safe Neighborhood Program

My organization, Living Systems Institute, and our good friends at Honeybee Keep, are sponsoring the Bee Safe Neighborhood program. LSI will certify your neighborhood as bee safe if you get 75 contiguous homes to sign a pledge not to use systemic poisons.  A honey bee will regularly fly two miles to visit a flower.  In that area 75 continuous homes is just a patch of healthy habitat.

The 75 homes has to do with the way humans work. There is scientific research that shows that humans are genetically programmed to want to work together for the common good within groups of 150 people or less.1 75 contiguous homes is a neighborhood working together to improve its habitat. And that is what the bees need. That is what we all need if we want to live in a healthy habitat. If you are ready to help create a healthy, beautiful habitat, one neighborhood at a time, drop us a line and let us know about your efforts and let us know how we can help.