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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Grubs

Our modest-size house sits on a third of an acre in a semi-rural small town setting. For 15 years I’ve fostered blooming chaos in my yard. Mixed perennial beds dominate, and about half of the back lawn approximates a meadow that I mow once a year. Those who prefer order might view what I’ve helped create as a colorful overgrown mess, but I find the barely controlled beds pleasing.

I can’t say that about my lawn. I mow what remains of it so that we have some open, relatively tick-free, space for the grandchildren to play on. But I mow around the baby Black-eyed Suzies, Daisy Fleabane, and Lupine stalks.

There are also bare spots, or at least until July when the crab grass fills in. Those empty patches signal grub infestations. When I started tending the yard I used store-bought formulas to combat them and then, as I became concerned about not poisoning the soil, switched to natural controls such as nematodes. Those worked pretty well, but I was so indifferent that when the grubs returned, I ignored them.

This year while contemplating my mangy lawn I saw that several of the many bird species attracted to my diverse seed-producing yard, including Northern Flickers and Brown Thrashers, gravitate to the bare spots. Recently I realized that they were dining on the grubs. Those nasty grubs have also been feeding a large population of field mice, moles and voles that, in turn, attract hawks.

I still find the grubs disgusting when I encounter one while working in a flower bed. But I’d rather have bare spots, grubs AND Thrashers, than a completely green lawn. Human efforts to control nature have usually created plant and animal monocultures. We see this everywhere; from corn fields to cattle herds to suburban lawns. And yet we now know that a more diverse biosphere is more resilient, and ultimately more productive.

I can’t help noticing on walks, through what Elli and I call “the development” around the corner from our house, how relatively free of animal and bird life the pristine yards are. Perhaps some of the homeowners are bent on “keeping down” the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks that infest my yard, to keep them from digging holes, killing shrubs and eating their flowers. I admit I don’t like it much when one of our bunnies starts munching on my irises, but since I’ve got hundreds, I can spare a few. Anyway, once there are plenty of bunnies (they do breed like rabbits), we hear coyotes howling in the field behind us at night and then there are only a couple.

I see my relationship to the yard as a dialectical interaction. The soil and weather dictate what flourishes or dies, not me. I manage it some; aimed mostly at maintaining its diversity. And now I’ve even come to terms with the grubs. Read More 
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