In the microcosm of your garden it's easy to feel like your actions have no impact on the "environment at large." Conversations about water use efficiency and agricultural runoff typically discuss a scale that seems unthinkable to the home gardener, or even to the family farmers themselves. But there's one way that I've discovered to break down the big challenges in sustainability that helps to reframe individual actions into something more impactful.
Introducing: The Microenvironment
These little segments of the world can be as small as a single bug under a leaf, or as big as a whole neighborhood of gardens in a city. For me they are key to how I think about my garden spaces.
As every gardener knows, not all spots in the garden are created equal. There are the sunny spots, the clay soil spots, and the weedy spots. As you become more familiar with your growing spot, you'll know all about this and be able to make decisions about whether to amend your soils, how to get rid of you weeds, and where/what to plant.
If you're new to gardening, or if you have a sense that there's something non-optimal in your current growing set-up, there are two big cues that you can look for that serve as microenvironment health indicators: aboveground biodiversity and underground biodiversity.
For the sake of simplicity, we'll just discuss what these indicators look like in midsummer.
Aboveground biodiversity is where all the excitement is happening. Every stem, leaf, flower, and fruit of the garden is part of this diversity. As you look closer you can begin to assess insect populations, looking at pollinators & pests, which may be flying, scuttering, or hopping about. Take note of these critters.
Then look bigger. What birds are visiting? Are there squirrels, mice, or other rodents around? And don't forget about the big creatures either. Be on the lookout for signs of foxes, raccoons, and more.
If you want to go a step further, take out your digging spade and you can peek underground for more biodiversity. First you can check for the "big stuff" like worms and other crawlers. Then, if you're willing to sacrifice a plant or two, try pulling some up to check on the roots. Look for signs of rot, which indicates some specific bacterial presence. You'll be able to get a sense of how your plants are responding to the soil microclimate, and you can make some decisions about watering and soil amendments.
As you watch these indicators pay attention to when and where you're seeing life. Does the system seem balanced or is there too much of one thing? Not only does this "noticing" exercise give you a sense of what needs to be brought back into balance in your garden it helps to tune you into the beauty of the intricate garden ecosystem. And that's where you can see how your gardening plays a role in the BIG network of sustainability.
We want to see what's visiting your garden spaces this year. Share with us on social media, email, or even send us a photo in the mail!
As always, if you have any questions related to gardens, seeds, or biodiversity, please reach out.