Dirt is a living expanse, it’s not supposed to be sterile. Over the years, the soil underneath my back deck has been a home to ground-dwelling bees, a rat or two, and a skunk. I don’t mind the wildlife, especially the skunk, who is a good neighbour (aside from eating my water lilies).

This week, I reconfigured the deck as I was changing the set up of this year’s garden. As I lifted various parts of the deck, I noticed the soil was quite moist and rich, sheltered from the heat. It had been tunnelled, turned, and fertilized by all the species of animals I know and don’t know. (Tip for dealing with the skunk’s latrine: throw down some dolomite lime).

I took a course at McGill in Organic Soil Fertilization late last year. I learned that my yard’s soil type is loamy clay (with a lot of rocks in it – I actually look forward to digging them out and collecting them on the surface, if they’re bigger than a quail egg).

I also learned that soil microfauna, like isopod “pill bugs,” centipedes, and worms, are essential for soil fertility. They are our little decomposer friends, grazing on bacteria, fungus, carbon sources, and occasionally on each other. Soil macrofauna, like rodents, amphibians, and others who burrow to make nests and passageways, are soil engineers. They are particularly responsible for distribution of seeds and nutrients.

I’ve since found a chapter, published in two different books on ecological management of rodents as pests (and not as pets as we know them over at Mooshika). The chapter Rodent-Ecosystem Relationships discusses the positive aspects of rodents in ecosystems. Considering how we belabour the economic damage they do to crops and the public health issue of plague (which isn’t that relevant over the past 100 years), this perspective is long overdue. Let’s hope it’ll take about a quarter as long to put those issues into their proper perspective.

I’d like to hope that we could be free of scapegoating rats and mice or any other creature as being  pests, but really, we must try to see them as they actually are. The above book chapter is a welcome addition to the literature. It’s by Dr. Chris Dickman, an Australian desert ecologist, of whom you can see on ABC Television here: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3251977.htm

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