Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Biodiversity: A situation or condition that results in large concentrations of many different Life forms. Biologists say that to achieve a sustainable ecology we must first have the right conditions. That starts with the unseen micro-organisms and works its way right up the scale to the larger, more articulate creatures that walk, crawl, fly, and/or swim. Creatures like us that we can relate to. Some we enjoy, others not so much…

Be that as it may, in order for this natural system to function we must have the entire package. Predator and prey, the hunter and the hunted. All creatures must have adequate food, shelter, and water. For most things, especially those large enough to be seen and recognized, the food source begins with plants. Most everything either eats plants or feeds upon those who eat the plants.

Plants also provide shelter for a large number of predators and prey that are eating the plants. A hollow log as it rots will provide temporary shelter for a number of our four-legged cousins, toads, reptiles, and countless numbers of insects, worms, and fungi (mushrooms). Some of these actually consume the rotten wood, others simply enjoy the moisture and insulating comfort the rotting wood provides.

Plants are living filters as they feed on minerals and organic matter dissolved in water. You may have noticed that given the choice most birds and animals will choose to drink from places that have moving water. The rolling and tumbling water takes on higher oxygen levels and decreases the likelihood of harmful disease organisms that are often found growing in stagnant water. To be certain, there are also higher concentrations of aquatic and land based plants, fish, and other edible delicacies found in and around the rapids and waterfalls. This is biodiversity at work. Fishermen know to cast among the rocks, riffles, and whirlpools. Bears catch salmon in the same places.

One very good example of how biodiversity works is observed in backyard water features. Beginners are often discouraged by all the various pumps, filtration systems, chemicals and other accoutrements offered in water gardening catalogs. Water gardening appears to them to be costly and labor intensive. It is… If you follow the advice given by those who profit from selling the products.

In reality, if you get your biology right, all you need is a pump to move the water. Your plant roots become your filters that don’t need constant cleaning. Your riffles and waterfalls produce highly oxygenated water that increases biodiversity which begins with microbes and winds up with the top predator; your fish. Your water can be just as clear and pleasing to the eye as that of the person with multiple filters and expensive black light UV (ultraviolet) systems to kill floating algae. Perhaps most pleasing is the fact that you are not obliged to clean filters and spend money on chemical additives. However, you must encourage biodiversity to achieve your goal. The same holds true with indoor aquariums. You are, in fact, creating a tiny microcosm of Life. Get the whole package.

So, when we make special gardens for birds, butterflies, or simply a patch for native grasses and wildflowers we are increasing biodiversity. When we take in a new section of lawn for ornamental plantings we increase biodiversity. Planting a tree increases biodiversity. When we eventually plant a shade garden under that tree we increase biodiversity.

On the other hand, when we insist on large areas of grass monoculture, we decrease biodiversity. When we over-prune or remove a tree for the sake of lawn grass, we decrease biodiversity. When we plow and plant large acreage of a single crop, we decrease biodiversity. However, growing fruits and veggies in smaller plots will increase biodiversity. Even large fruit and nut tree orchards will increase biodiversity given that understory plants and native grasses are allowed to co-exist.

You don’t need bird feeders to attract more birds to your backyard habitat. Simply plant trees, shrubs, and grasses they will eat and use for nesting. You’ll never have to buy “bird seed” and your plantings will increase rather than decrease. If you select the right plants, you will never have to buy them again either.

Many of my neighbors are complaining of mosquitoes and other pests right now. Some have even complained of the increase in spiders this season. The rainfall has increased our biodiversity. The spiders are out there consuming a bumper crop of flying insects. One fellow boasted (on Facebook) he was going to spray to kill the spiders. He was quickly admonished by his friends that would be counterproductive. You have to have the whole package.

Meanwhile I am astounded that we still have a comfortable sitting area around the smoker and nearby goldfish pond. Yes, the flies and mosquitoes are present but not in “biblical” proportion as one might expect. The birds and butterflies abound. Countless thousands of spiders will be seen building webs this evening. Nila and I have the whole package. Ya’ll come see us!!

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