fallen tree

Uprooted tree with decay and decomposition well under way.

Trees die… it’s a fact of life.  Sometimes they are uprooted and topple over, sometimes they die slowly while standing tall.  If they are uprooted and topple over it is usually due to the forces of heavy winds, or long periods of rain saturating the soil to the extent the roots don’t have enough holding power in the soft earth to support the weight of the tree.  Either of these toppling scenarios usually happen with little or no warning and hopefully there isn’t a home or other structure in the path of the fallen tree.

When a tree gradually dies or topples over in nature it remains there, as is, for nature to do her work.  This work consists of decomposition and decay… two words that may invoke a negative reaction from most people, at least initially.  But decomposition and decay are necessary and important in nature not only with trees, but with wild animals as well.  When a death in the forest or a death in nature occurs, the decomposition and decay process is vital to the overall health of the ecosystem.  It is nature in action.

fallen tree decomposition

Note the many small holes where insects are doing their work. At this point in the decomposition process the wood is very weak and even somewhat “spongy” in some places.

When a tree topples over or it is evident that a tree is dying, if at all possible let it be. With our manicured lawns and pristine views out our living room windows seeing a tree lose leaves, lose limbs, then turn dark and ugly, is something many of us really don’t want to look at.  But while decomposition and decay may appear to be unpleasant processes from our human perspective, they are vital in terms of the functioning of ecosystems. Just like compost in a garden, they provide essential nutrients for the growth of new organisms, and are a key aspect of the cyclical processes that maintain all life on Earth. Appreciation of their importance will help us protect and sustain ecosystems.

So think twice before “cleaning up” those dead or dying trees.  They may not be very attractive to us humans, but to Mother Nature they are beautiful indeed.

The Power of Beneficial Insects

An organic and sustainable garden/landscape/farming operation can take care of itself. Mother Nature has crime fighters that are ready, willing, and very much able to take bad bugs down.

It is extremely rare for me to have any type of pest or disease problem.  I’ve been gardening organically since the late 1980’s, and here at the herb farm since 1996 when we bought the property.  The longer someone grows organically the less likely they are to have a problem, but last year my cucumber vines developed a big pest problem.  Within just a few days my cucumber vines went from lush and green to this:

Lots of dead and dying leaves… a very sad sight

I have so few problems with pests that I don’t know a mite from an aphid, so I can’t tell you what attacked my cucumber vines.  It was something almost microscopic because I couldn’t really see any bad guys, but their damage was painfully evident.

I don’t use any sprays or pest deterrents at all, not even those labeled organic.  I let nature take its course and I’m prepared to lose a crop if that’s the course nature wants to take. Even though the damage was severe I was fairly certain that justice would prevail and the many beneficial insects I have around here would come to my rescue.  So I kept my fingers crossed, my camera ready, and within a day or two the troops came to my rescue.  Lady bugs (actually lady beetles), green lacewings, dragonflies, house flies, and others I couldn’t identify swooped in to help me out!

 Lady beetles to the rescue!

These pictures were taken over a period of 18 days.  From the severe damage shown in the first picture to the new growth and restored health in the picture just above, Mother Nature fixed the problem.  I did nothing except document the process with photos.

I have had people tell me they are organic unless they have a bug or disease problem.  If you spray, dust, or apply pesticide in any way at any time you are NOT organic. Furthermore, not only are you killing the bad bugs but you are also killing the good bugs that kill the bad bugs!  And the use of chemical fertilizer applied to the soil or plants themselves is not organic either.

Organic growing is not an overnight solution.  It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes the understanding that at some point (usually within the first couple years of swearing off pesticides) you will lose a crop to bugs.  But don’t give in. Giving in will take you back to the beginning of your organic journey.  Be patient and be kind to the beneficial insects that will make the journey worthwhile.   Trust me.

What is organic? What is sustainable? What is natural?

Or-gan-ic (adj.) – (1) Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin; (2) Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals; (3) Simple, healthful, and close to nature.

Sus-tain-a-ble (adj.) – (1) Capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage; (2) Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.

Nat-u-ral (adj.) – (1) Present in or produced by nature; (2) Of, relating to, or concerning nature; (3) Faithfully representing nature or life.