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Organic Diversity
by Jeff Johnson
October 27, 2020

With the growing season over, many gardeners begin dreaming about and planning next year's visual and olfactory delights. Now is the time to add biodiversity preservation to the planning list.

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, includes three types: genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. Biodiversity preservation is becoming increasingly important as many varieties and species are lost in the corporate rush to increase profits. (For example, there were once over 7,000 varieties of apple; by 1904, 86% had been lost forever, and many hundreds more have been lost since then. Fewer than fifteen are now sold retail.) As well, some ecosystems, or habitats, are being destroyed by urban development, forestry, and industrial agriculture.

Genetic Biodiversity

When you plan next year's garden, look for different or unusual plant varieties.

Look for open-pollinated varieties (ones that will breed true to type; hybrid varieties, usually patented by seed companies, cannot breed true). Collect plants from local gardeners, from companies that sell heritage seeds, or from non-profit organizations. Seeds of Diversity Canada (formerly the Heritage Seed Program), a national charitable organization, has almost 2,000 listings of heritage and unusual seeds for flowers, vegetables, fruits, grains, and herbs. Members obtain seed from each other with the understanding that they will also collect the seed and make it available the following year. Seeds of Diversity Canada's address is listed below.

One benefit of genetic diversity you'll find in your garden and on your dinner plate is the wide array of interesting shapes and colours -- purple potatoes, yellow tomatoes, white eggplant, to name just three.

Species Biodiversity

Species diversity means growing dozens, or even hundreds, of different plant species in your garden rather than a handful or two. Species diversity is particularly important for organic gardeners. The more species you have in your garden, the less likely it is that you will have insect or disease infestations. Often, in a diverse garden, insect pests can't find their favourite plants due to confusing scents or a lack of visual cues to lead them to dinner. And plant diversity also means more predators to keep pests at manageable levels.

Planning for species diversity in the ornamental garden also lends itself to edible landscaping -- many herbs and other edible plants are decorative, and can be planted around the house for easy harvesting. Scent gardens can be enhances by adding unusual species, as can colour gardens. Wherever possible, try to use native species instead of exotics -- many native species are in decline, and can be forced out of their eco-niche by exotic plants.

Ecosystem Biodiversity

Ecosystem biodiversity requires planning on a large scale to ensure that native wild species (plant and animal) can thrive. On a gardening scale, we can ensure that wild species are nurtured by creating various habitats. Adding a pond or two (as simple as a child's wading pool sunk into the ground or as expensive as an excavated and lined pool) will ensure that frogs, dragonflies and other insect predators visit your gardens (if excavating, try making a pond with many inlets and different depths).

Bird baths (placed near trees for quick flights to safety) and bird houses will bring many varieties of insect-eaters, as well as many joyful hours of birdwatching. Bat houses may attract these mammals that eat their weight in insects every day. (Please learn how to build these houses and where to place them -- bats have particular roosting requirements.) Butterfly gardens will enhance your yard two ways: the beautiful colours and scents of the gardens, and the beautiful butterflies attracted to them.

Add trees to your landscape, and use shade-loving plants beneath and around them as they grow larger. Trees with fruit will bring birds to your garden in late summer, autumn, and even winter. Coniferous trees will give protection to over-wintering bird species.

Begin now to bring biodiversity to your gardens. Order heritage seed catalogues, learn about companion planting for protection from pests, and buy or build bird and bat houses. As your garden becomes more diverse in genetic variety, number of species, and varying habitats, you'll have the pleasure of knowing that your leisure pursuits are contributing to maintaining the world's biodiversity.

Check out the article The Ultimate Guide to Birdwatching here...

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