Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bird Life

It is so sad to read about the silence that has descended on many parts of the world. People say that they no longer hear birdsong. It's not rocket science to work out why many millions of birds have died since 1950 or so. The 2nd world war heralded the onset of commercial farming with chemicals: crime number one against the soil.No longer did farmers plough nice smelly manure into their fields, but happily sprinkled chemicals to provide the chemical elements, calculated to provide the basic requirements for healthy plant growth. Never mind about the soil microbiome and earthworms! Manure provides fibre and microorganisms for the soil, something that chemicals can't do. A healthy soil is teeming with insects, grubs and worms - brilliant for birds. But then on top of crime number one against the soil, came crime number 2 : Poison.
All over the world on farms, in parks and gardens poison has been sprayed to protect crops, flowers and vegetables from the creatures that might eat them. Unfortunately birds have eaten the poisoned grubs and have died as a result. Seed eaters also get poisoned when crops are sprayed.
Crime number 3 against the soil is the GMO story, and it will possibly take a long time to evaluate the true cost to the planet of genetic modification and glyphosate, which seems to adversely affect the soil microbiome. Are we going to see the results of birds and animals eating GM corn and other grains?

So to my garden and this spring, which has seen an explosion of nest building and bird breeding. There is never a quiet moment, even on the hottest day, some bird will be filling the air with a happy song. Quite a few visitors are rather pesky, but I put up with them and use nets to protect berries and grapes. The mousebird will happily chomp away at my spinach, bean leaves, granadilla leaves as well as fruits. It's such a pretty bird, I can't get too upset. One of my favourite visitors is the pied barbet, and I deliberately allow Solanum spp to grow as they love the berries. Recently the bokmakierie (Bush shrike) made a return to our area after a long absence and I was delighted when an Olive thrush made a nest in the wild olive tree, and hatched out a very sweet chick. Bulbuls, sunbirds, white eyes and Cape robin are at home here, but a newcomer is the greater honeyguide, no doubt attracted to the beehives. There are two in the garden, flitting about near the hives and pecking on any empty frames I leave out for the bees to clean.

Unlike in many parts of the UK and Europe that I have visited, my garden has a wonderful dawn chorus as well as sporadic daytime songs to gladden the heart. Our gardens make up suburban forests and we all need to be mindful of this and keep the environment poison free. This includes rat poison which affects owls and caracals (which still roam the hills and mountains surrounding built up areas.)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The humming garden - pollinators’ paradise.

Just the other day I read a Facebook post from an organic gardener, who said that although spring had arrived, the garden was deathly quiet. No humming, no buzzing. He described it as worrying. At the same time, research is showing that globally millions of insects are under threat, while thousands of species have gone extinct.

This is hardly a surprise is it? Most households have a can of insecticide and most gardeners go to the pesticide aisle if there’s an invasion of lice on their roses. In fact there is a whole timetable for when to spray different chemicals on roses.

Insects are an important part of the food chain. They are eaten by birds, bats, reptiles, aquatic creatures, other insects and even humans. Poisoned insects are poisoned food for insect eaters.insects are also very important for having essential roles in the systems of life such as pollinating, cleaning up, and preying on other insects. Consistently spraying insects, whether done by gardeners or farmers, has created huge imbalances in the insect world. It has become extremely difficult to grow fruit without spraying something to prevent some or other infestation, and commercial fruit and vegetable farmers are almost trapped in the system of spraying in order to get a decent crop.

We have seen a decline in the numbers of birds, lizards, frogs, chameleons and many insects such as bees, bumblebees and other important pollinators in our gardens. It is a deeply worrying trend which affects many aspects of life.

So it is with delight that I observe the life in my garden. Even more delightful are the sounds of life - the chirping, cheeping, tweeting, humming, buzzing and droning of life! The air is filled with hundreds of insects, some dancing up and down, others hovering, darting, or swooping as they get on with their business.

No a drop of poison goes into the house or garden. Sometimes I have no crops(my crop is very small) because of fruit fly, or pumpkin fly. But my garden is an insect paradise and a source of joy to me. To see the air so busy and alive like an aquarium is fantastic. I urge you to create a safe place for all living creatures in your garden. See your garden as an important part of the urban forest, to be nurtured and cherished. Let’s all do our bit to restore balance as far as possible.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Post drought analysis

Here in the Western Cape we are slowly recovering from the worst drought in, for many of us, living memory. We have had some rain and water tanks are refilling. Dams are slowly gaining water and reaching more acceptable levels.
Usually for me water saving is not too much of an issue - I've had water tanks for many years and have relied on them for much of the watering of the garden. But this drought, together with strong winds and scorching temperatures, really was a supreme challenge.

What was an issue was the heartbreak I was experiencing when walking around the garden, and seeing the "lifelessness" of everything - like starving children with dead eyes, all just hanging on. Despite using plenty of mulch, I also noticed a change in the soil as the "life" had to drive deeper down, and the topsoil became dirt. This worried me the most - the damage to the soil microbiome from lack of water. But then as the water restrictions were relaxed a bit, and we have been allowed to put a sprinkler on for an hour per week, combined with some rain, things sprang into life with joyful blooms and greenery. It was almost as if the plants and the soil were shouting, "thank you!"

Somebody wrote that they considered it to be a crime to use municipal water for the garden. I feel that our environment is vitally important. Studies have shown that trees are vital for rain production. We should all make an effort to use some water, even if it's grey water, to keep our surroundings, including our soils, healthy.
Suburban gardens form mini forests which are home to many birds and the few reptiles that have survived human and pet attacks. We need to nurture all the life that surrounds us. Our ecosystems are under so much threat, let's try and do our bit at home, on our balconies and in our gardens to keep things alive and healthy. We will be rewarded with the soothing colours of nature and plenty of birdsong.

So to keep water in the dams for future use, continue your water saving measures but remember to give some water to your garden. Collect rain water, cold shower water and vegetable washing water and give that to the plants. Even water that you've cooked veggies in, is really good for your garden. It's not just about human life, but all life.