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The beauty of diversity

I know, every year about this time, I say the same thing, “the EDU-Garden® looks as beautiful as I have ever seen it!” But it is as true today as it has been in previous years. There is a good reason, too, if you will look closely at the photo taken January 17, you will see how much diversity there is in the garden. Notice that there is quite a mixture of different things growing, flowers and edible crops. Most of our students can identify everything in the picture. Can you?

Today in commercial farming, there is not the biodiversity of crops that you witness here. “Monoculture” is what most conventional farms employ today with field after field, hectare after hectare of the same thing, be it corn, soybeans, green beans, celery, collards, and in the Deep South even cotton and tobacco. Boring! To the eye it seems monotonous if you happen to be driving through farming country. But gazing at monotonous fields of corn and other such crops is not the only thing wrong with monoculture. All of these crops, whatever they are, are of the same species, row after row. What can happen if some crop disease or insect descends upon a monoculture field? There are a host of diseases and insects who only feed on a specific crop and good for them, they find fields of their favorite corn or whatever, and soon all of that crop could be ruined by the invasion of insects and disease.

Now today, what happens is that when pestilence strikes, the farmers bring out the pesticides and spray hundreds of thousands of gallons on the crops to save the crops from the pests or disease. If we know that pestilence is most often host specific, why not just plant different varieties and different crops, mix it up, so the pests can't find their food source?

So now go back to our picture: broccoli, two different kinds of kale, then Swiss chard, marigolds, pink shooting stars, zinnias, onions, cilantro, amaranth and tomatoes (background) and it sure is pretty too! Certainly, we still have pests and sometimes fungal disease too, but at the same time even if that happens with the diversity of what we grow, we are never without something to eat! Monoculture can't compete with that.

Soon all of what you see will change; everything will be harvested and distributed to our kids and their families; new crops will be planted as we employ our crop rotation strategy.

It takes mindful and careful planning to keep a sustainable organic garden. We still have plenty of collards and kale if you would like to come to the garden, just hurry. It is going fast!

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