About two weeks ago a reader (Julie) e-mailed me about some young gardeners/farmers and how they believed in a natural balance. The e-mail read: “Would you mind devoting a blog or two to the philosophy that nature is perfectly balanced and will find a solution to whatever ails it and therefore we do not need to use any chemicals or poisons to fight pests and disease?”
I thought this was a good question, and here’s my quick answer (followed, naturally, by a more long and drawn out answer). Yes, I do believe that nature will strike its own balance. Unfortunately this balance won’t always be great for humans.
The more in-depth explanation…..Organisms like diseases, plants and animals do what they have evolved to do. The plants grow, the insects feed on them, the insect poo goes back into the ground. The insects get eaten by an animal and then that animal’s poo goes back into the ground – the tree uses the poo as fertilizer — it’s all a big cycle and it works. If any particular plant or insect gets out of hand then invariably something that eats it will eventually show up and go gangbusters — and all of it goes back to the ground.
For humans who “live off the land” this balance works fine. They’re not looking for huge yields of food per acre, and they’re willing to forgo certain foods if that food happens to be in short stock in a particular forest in a particular year because of an insect or disease or whatever. And so insect or disease losses will usually leave them plenty of food to eat. But modern agriculture is based on large yields per unit area. That means that the whole balance thing goes out the window. Likewise, because humans prefer non-blemished food, the whole balance thing gets screwed up too. So, in the end, we usually end up doing something to get rid of pests.
And then there’s fertility to consider — When we grow crops on a piece of land we take whatever is produced and then eat it or sell it – but rarely do we put our waste back on that land. What that means is that we’re fighting the balance. By not recycling our waste we’re taking from the land without returning what we took from it back to it. So, after a few years, we end up having to fertilize because the land just can’t make up for what we’ve taken and not returned.
Balance is great – I just think that it’s tough to strike a balance with modern agriculture and still feed ourselves.
So, there you have it – my two cents on balance.