Nature’s Way – Mountain Messenger

By Karen Cohen

I often remark to visitors (and myself!), if you look down at just one square foot of the natural world: forest floors, a veggie garden, maybe your compost pile, you will discover a life or all sorts. Even the log cabin’s exterior walls provide cubby holes for ants, carpenter bees, and bats.

Sometimes you just have to slow down to a complete standstill and then observe. Try it outside. No need to hold your breath! Within a few minutes, you will see a yellow swallowtail butterfly flit by. Two cabbage moths play tag in the garden. Goldfinches undulate in flight as they seemingly bounce through the weeds. Whitetail deer move through the woods silently. Acorns by the dozens bounce off a nearby tin roof. A lone hummingbird sips from the rose of a sharon tree; you hear its zipping buzz. A gnat flies into your eye or worse yet, into your open mouth.

Diversity is everywhere. Diversity is natural and thrives if we allow it to do what it does. The world around us is alive!

If you are outside in your yard and you don’t notice any signs of life, that is not a good sign. Your lawn may be green from chemical applications but it acts as a desert for other life forms. Herbicides and pesticides kill everything except green grass blades. Maybe you will admit that you have fought to kill off everything that lives, breathes, and moves around in what you consider as your own property. Is it hard to accept that other living creatures including snakes, mice, chipmunks, frogs, rabbits, spiders, weeds, (the list goes on and on), don’t know that only YOU have exclusive rights to not just your house but also the ground it sits upon.

Before you get riled up over the thought of sharing your space with outsiders, let’s examine why keeping diversity alive and well is beneficial. Take a deep breath and dive into how the natural world works. Everything under the heavens is co-dependent on other living beings. The parasitic mushrooms, for example, thrive on decaying trees. They help to decompose fallen wood. In turn, humans harvest and eat oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and lion’s mane mushrooms, just to name a few of the edibles that nature provides. Bees, despite some humans being allergic to them, are little pollinators. Tomatoes, strawberries, and beans, are just some of the crops that bees play a key role in producing food.

Butterflies, the most cherished of insects due to their beauty and grace, also pollinate. They drink the nectar of flowers and cross pollinate the pollen. Have you noticed that butterflies are just as busy as bees, collecting from their food source all day long. If you haven’t already, try tossing some flowers that insects also love into your salads: nasturtiums, pansies, and borage flowers have distinct, appealing tastes and beneficial vitamins and minerals.

Birds can be regarded as pests in large numbers but bluebirds and tree swallows eat tons of harmful insects daily. In your orchard, they consume moths, caterpillars and larvae. Bats act as mosquito control squads. Hire them for free by putting up some bat boxes and they’ll eat up to 1200 insects per hour at night. They prefer dark areas so turn off outside lights at night to allow them to go to work. Use motion lights if you need to get around at night outside.

Here is news worth spreading which came from my internet search and I quote:

“While many insects can seem like pests, they provide a wide range of services to other plants and animals in our environment. In fact, a diverse range of insect species is critical to the survival of most life on Earth, including bats, birds, freshwater fishes and even humans! Along with plants, insects are at the foundation of the food web, and most of the plants and animals we eat rely on insects for pollination or food. For example, 96% of songbirds feed insects to their young.” How can we increase diversity and share our yards, gardens, and parks with crawling, flying, hopping critters, and live according to ‘nature’s way?’ First off, recognize that pesticides kill all kinds of bugs, good and bad, just like bullets. Neem oil, which many gardeners consider non-toxic, kills caterpillars and their eggs. It works as a neurotoxin and kills them within hours. One caterpillar cannot be distinguished from another by a spray bottle. Handpicking is the least destructive way to remove the caterpillars that may turn into cabbage worms, army worms, or corn earworms. Many caterpillars have small hairs that can cause a stinging sensation so use garden gloves and a bug identifying book to be sure who is who. The beneficial caterpillars are monarch butterfly and swallowtail caterpillars, and wooly bear caterpillars. If you must spray, use caution and target your enemy. Don’t spray the whole garden to kill off some aphids or earwigs.

“Neem is thought not to harm certain beneficial insects including ladybugs and predatory mites, and does not impact honey bees and other pollinators like butterflies as long as they’re not sprayed directly.”

We have the power to encourage diversity. The power is in our hands, our brains, and our hearts.

Additional Facts: The University of California considers Neem Oil as moderately toxic to bees and recommends application only during late evening, night, or early morning and when plants are not blooming, i.e., when bees are not typically out foraging. The National Pesticide Information Center claims Neem oil is practically non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees and plants. Neem oil is slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms (frogs). Azadirachtin, a component of neem oil, is moderately toxic to fish and other aquatic animals such as frogs, seahorses, and fish.

(Karen Cohen writes her garden journals, Nature’s Way, and is an avid nature explorer. Email your tips and comments to:

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