Organic Systems-Thinking

We’ve had quite a lot of Locusts in the garden this year—far more than usual. Not to plague proportions by any stretch, but a lot. It’s just how things go in the normal cycles of population boom and bust.

Whenever I see one of these disgusting looking yellow/green monsters (and they are huge—about the length of an adult’s finger)—or worse, a couple of them mating—I stomp them. (Ech. Yellow goop and a foul odour that clings and clings.) So how is this different from spraying insecticides all around the place? Well, it’s the difference between a knife and a cluster bomb, isn’t it? The one is mano-a-locust. The other is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. It is not my aim to wipe out all of Locust-kind. I just want to kill the few that have targetted my valued food plants. The former represents a disruption of an ecosystem, the latter might arguably be seen as working within the ecosystem. What, you didn’t think you were part of the ecosystem?

At this point a question occurs, and it’s a good question. What roles do Locusts play in the local garden ecosystem? Are they on the fine-dining menu of some predator or other? Are they perhaps part of culling weaker plants, so acting as an evolutionary pressure toward stronger (whatever ‘strong’ means in the context of this particular ecosystem) guild of plants?

Just the other day I bumped into one of my more-recently-settled neighbours, and they were lamenting the infestation of Bagrada Bugs they’ve experienced through the Winter just past. “Third season of your veggie garden, isn’t it?” I smiled.

They nodded.

“Yup. First two seasons you get a free pass. Third season all the pests find your crops, and generally you don’t have robust predator-prey networks in place yet.”

“So what do you do?” they cried. “What sprays do you use?” meaning, I know, insect-repellent sprays accepted in Organic growing, because they swing that way.

Me, I swing even harder over to the extreme end of that spectrum. “I spray nothing,” I informed them. “And the funny thing is, I’ve had a relatively Bagrada-free Winter, this year.”

“So how do you deal with those bugs?” they asked.

“I give them a round of applause,” I answered, and mimed clapping my hands, squashing Bagrada bugs by hand when and where I find a severe infestation on one or other plant. Yeucch, yes, and messy, and only locally and temporarily effective. “But in the long run, just focus on building better soil ecology—more compost, more fungi, more caterpillars, more earthworms and snakes and frogs, more soil carbon. Focus on encouraging a vibrantly healthy garden ecosystem, and the natural predators will keep the Bagrada Bugs in check without you doing anything about them directly.”

And then, the same question as I had regarding the Locusts. What roles do Bagrada Bugs play in the local garden ecosystem?

And the answer: I don’t know.

Haven’t a clue.

All I do know is that they must have some uses and functions within the ecosystem, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. They must have a niche, because if they didn’t occupy that niche, something else would. Perhaps something I’d regard as an even worse ‘problem’ pest.

And therein lies the problem with Weapons of Mass Destruction. If you suppress the entire population of one species, you severely disrupt the entire ecosystem. You’ll also almost never entirely eliminate the problem pest, and I’ll gloss over the fact that all you’ll really achieve is an evolutionary pressure so that the pest species evolves to become resistant or immune to your countermeasure over time.

All you can achieve is to weaken the entire predator-prey/protagonist-synergist network that is the life-form we identify as ‘ecosystem’. You solve nothing, except in a most temporary and fleeting fashion.

And what use is that?