Friday, 6 November 2015

building that biome

I've had a badly upset stomach this week. It coincided with the bread first being a bit squishy, and then getting mould. It seems that after ten months of regular baking, we have now created a steady, predictable environment, where those bacteria that thrive on bread can grow, expand and proliferate. And so we have rope, bane of the baker; and mould, monster of the store cupboard. A bacterial biome that conspires to take our food and use it before we can.

I visited my old place at the weekend. I planted a lot when I got there, mostly because the garden had no good borders. So I put in a front hedge, a box hedge, a fuchsia hedge, a native hedge, a rosa rugosa hedge and over the bit where we sometimes got people vaulting over and scampering through the property - a thorn hedge with firethorn and Berberis for berries and colour. A few took quickly, but the Fuchsia sulked for years. It's only recently that it's started to screen the ugly concrete wall it was planted to hide, and once again I'm inclined to blame the biome. All this planting preceded the easy availability of rootgrow, so everything had to build its own relationships with whatever it could find in the way of mycorrhizal helpers. The fuchsia, planted right next to a recently built concrete wall, had the hardest job on its hands, followed by the Rugosa, planted in a narrow trench cut through a field of very vigorous grass. Once the trees (I also put a cherry out back and a magnolia front) got big enough to start spreading the joy, then everything woody benefited. Plains gave way to shrubland. The biome changed.

Looking down at the patio today, Tim commented that we should clean it next spring. Our neighbours have a large steam cleaner that does do a super job and makes everything look sparkly fresh. But the patio too is a biome - rock pavement - and has its microscopic inhabitants. Algae, lichens, insects, moss; the columns of gnats that swirl above it, tempting in bats and dragonflies; the colonies of worms and ants that live beneath; the woodlice and, yes, even the slugs and snails. All of its invaders and inhabitants.

Gardeners build biomes and break them, shift them and change them. Our humaniform biomes sometimes fold out perfectly; other times, they seem permanently askew, and hard to fix. In my garden, for example, the slugs and snails are too plentiful, and there's an overplus of ants. Would steaming the patio help? Or would it just drive the survivors all the harder onto my young plants?

Maybe we'll find out this spring.

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