OK, I think my title for this blog is creative and witty, and I did manage to get a laugh out of entomologist Ken Fry when I told him my title. He too understands that what I say is true and has written in his book “Nothing grows in isolation”. You alone, cannot grow a chive, or any plant for that matter. Stop thinking of yourself as the grower! You aren’t. No offence intended, I am simply offering up due to recognition to what really happens in backyard gardens.
Let me introduce you to the “Villagers” that are truly responsible for growing our food. Without these critters we would have nothing. It is true that we have tried to take over, especially in professional agricultural settings where farmers want to grow as much produce as fast as possible, but I would argue that we have never managed to grow a chive as well as nature grows it herself.
Villager group #1 are the soil microbes. They feed your plants a changing buffet of required minerals depending on what these plants need each day. Your tomato plant puts out her request, and myccorhizal fungus responds, in exchange for sugars of course. This network is called the soil food web. The sun shines and leaves of plants capture this sunlight, converting it (quite magically might I add) into sugars which it uses as energy itself, but also uses as a bargaining chip for minerals. Microbes not only feed your plants naturally, and a well balanced diet to boot, but they also keep your plants healthy, strong, more productive (if they are an edible variety) and generally pest free.
Villager group #2 are the Decomposers. Yes, microbes also decompose, but here I am talking about the macro decomposers. The ones that don’t require a microscope to see, but instead can be seen with your own eyes. These decomposers break larger parts (think dead trees for example) down into bite size pieces for the microbes. Worms are part of this group, as are sow bugs, wood boring types of beetles and spring tales. If it weren’t for this crew, we’d be wading in organic material and waiting much longer for the microbes to be able to process all of this natural waste. Thanks to these larger decomposers, organic material becomes accessible to microbes, who then feed the extracted minerals to plants.
Villager group #3 are the Predator bugs. Predators are the carnivorous variety of insects who like to munch on what are often referred to as garden “pests”. Ground beetles, for example eat slugs. An event I got to watch last summer in my own garden. I filmed this event which was part horror flick, part amazing earth video. Ladybugs, being the poster child for the organic gardening movement, love to dine on aphids. When you see this charming critter in your garden it can be an obvious sign that something is going right! Robber flies, my new favourite bug, will eat almost anything that is smaller than itself, and sometimes will even dine on insects slightly larger than itself. It is so well designed to eat others that it comes with a beard or moustache-type facial hair called a “mystax”. This mystax keep long prey legs from scratching at its face while being carried away. I find this feature to be so hilarious that I had to feature the Robber Fly in the photo above. Its colouring reminds us of bees and wasps, but this is a trick to scare away other predators. The Robber Fly is actually harmless to anything bigger than itself, and is well loved by natural gardeners!
Villager group #4 are the Pollinators. The best known pollinators must be the bumble bees. Not only are they one of the cutest garden critters; furry and gentle-natured, but
they also pollinate about a third of the world’s food crops, meaning they are essential for feeding this world! Pollination means we get fruit, but it also means we get seeds and therefore plants continue to grow into the future. Aside from bumble bees, other pollinators include honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and all sorts of flies and so on. Anything that buzzes past flowers or crawls inside of them for a taste of nectar and pollen is a pollinator, and we need these guys, as do the plants.
Fun fact: did you know that nectar is the carbohydrate source while pollen is the protein source for a pollinator? Both are necessary for their survival, so consider eliminating sterile plants from your garden-scape. Plants that are hybridized are often sterile, since they are developed for their double blooms or amazing colours, and not for their pollen or nectar amounts. Keep this in mind when designing your yard or when selecting plants for your patio. Pollinators need pollen!
Instead of bragging about what amazing chives you grow next summer, consider sending out a quiet thank you to those who are actually responsible for growing this tasty early spring veggie/flower combination; the “villagers”. These villagers include soil microbes, decomposers, predator as well as the pollinator group of insects. It truly takes a village to raise a chive!