from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 11 June 2012

how to love hornets part 11: egocentric or ecocentric?

Of Birds and Spuds
There are now two young woodpeckers visiting the feeder– not sure if they're the same family or not. One is a fat male with a startlingly red crest, much bigger than his mother, and perfectly capable of feeding himself when she's not looking; but he not only hangs pathetically off the feeder mesh waiting for her to drop him a beakful, but is also rigorous in chasing off the other youngster, a female.

We're harvesting our first new potatoes. We haven't grown Colleen before, and they're completely delicious. The broad beans hardly bear speaking of (this is the third planting, and a weedy, thin, insect-chewed little tribe they are), but I gathered a small handful yesterday – the first of the season.

Of Cabbages and ... The Matter of Gastropods
Almost all of our kale seedlings and most of our purple sprouting broccoli, several rows, were picked off by pigeons. We have plastic 'collars' with inverted rims (turned back on themselves, I mean) as slug deterrents on some of the beans for winter freezing (French beans, borlotti, and flageolet) – they're so expensive that we only have a few. My trusty silver builders' sand is proving not up to the task of repelling the slugs that are already in the ground, and four of my seven courgette/pumpkin seedlings were completely removed in one night's slugfest. Several of the beans succumbed; several others have been nibbled; hopefully not fatally. This is on top of several lots of resowing where beans had rotted in soil that was firstly too cold, then too wet.

TM is visibly angry – something I don't witness often. It's primal, producing your own food; we put a lot of work into it, and TM has put a great deal more effort again into the building of the beds and the transporting of soil up a very steep slope. He's so angry he can barely speak for a while after discovering the pigeons' devastation of the brassicas; considering this transgression, I'm very glad he doesn't own an air-rifle. I plead tithing – we can afford to lose some of the crop, I say; and how should they know that it's not OK to eat such succulent new young greens? He doesn't buy it.

What does one do? I won't (generally) kill anything, not even a slug (though it is true I do kill the odd mosquito, if it's caught in the act of pinching my blood). I feel strongly about this. 'Every being trembles before danger,' says the ancient Pali Dhammapada. 'All fear death. A man considering this does not kill or cause to kill.' I practice Buddhism, and this is a central tenet.

So we stick windmills into the soil near the replanted brassica crop, and birdwire – a kind of humming string, the noise of which apparently deters birds. These measures will save some of the crop. We should have done that before the seedlings appeared. We might have to net them. More fools us, for our inertia.

But what to do about the slugs? My life is overfull to the extent that I'm permanently exhausted; I know I'm not going to get it together to go up into the steep field by torchlight each night to pick slugs off four big beds, and then the two little beds near the house, and remove them into the woods.

TM simply wants to use slug pellets to kill them**. He says that we are after all pretty carefully organic in every other way, and we're talking about a very small area. We don't have to be quite as purist and hardcore. I resist this, deeply. It's not just the use of poison; it's the knock-on effects: no slugs = no frogs, toads, hedgehogs, thrushes, blackbirds.

Let them eat cake*
And therein lies the rub: our large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides is responsible for the vast decline in wildlife species, as well as the pollution of rivers and earth. If we don't care for the sake of the other species in their own right, then at least we might consider exactly what and who is going to pollinate our food crops when all the bees have died from ingestion of pesticides, herbicides, weakened immune systems, Varroa mite, more concrete and fewer flowers, bad weather.

Many non-organic seeds are coated in neonicotinoids (actually I need to check if these have now been banned in the UK; but I suspect not); this means that the emerging flowers too carry a toxic pesticide load, and there is an impact on bees, other insects that feed on the flowers, and maybe even a small dose impregnates the birds feeding on those insects. How wonderful would it be to plant only organic flowers?

And how would it be to do this for its own sake, because it needs doing, for the planet – regardless of how it might benefit us, our species?


Egocentrism or Ecocentrism
SO: something that occupies a great deal of my thinking time, as well as my lifestyle ethos and personal practice, is how we as a species can move from our deeply engrained habit of anthropocentrism to one that genuinely relates to the rest of the ecosphere as having equal standing and equal rights to those of humans.

This ecocentric view will of course not be to everyone's taste, but having spent a lot of my last two or three decades investigating green ethics, one way or another, I cannot see any other way forward for all of us than to reassess our relationship to the natural world and the rest of its inhabitants towards establishing a more compassionate and egalitarian worldview. Ethically speaking I can't put my name to any approach that involves a relationship to the planet that is utilitarian: ie based on its 'usefulness' to humans, thus reducing everything to a 'resource'.

This re-visioning seems increasingly urgent. More, it seems unlikely that we ourselves will survive, let alone the other species with whom we share this planet, without a change of direction. The capitalist model of growth is simply unsustainable: it requires infinite resources, and too many of us live on a small planet with limited supplies of the things we require to keep our consumer lifestyles afloat.

The trouble is that the alternative doesn't appeal much. We have got used to having what we want, and our whole way of life in the Western world is predicated on material growth and accumulation. But 'how little do we need, rather than how much?' would be an excellent starting point.

Capitalism in the Stone Age
I have masses to write and to say on all this – starting with my view that capitalism – acquisitional growth – began in the Neolithic, with the appropriating and expanding of territory (as opposed to the hunter/gatherer ethos). But that's another blog or three.

What I'm interested in right now, though, is how, on a practical level, here in this garden, we do or don't manage to live within and from an ecocentric viewpoint. It is, of course, one thing espousing the ideology, and another putting it into practice on the microcosmic scale. Any comments/tips, please share them with us!

Last year I posted a blog on our attempts here at home to live in a genuinely eco-friendly way in the veg garden: For more on all of this, you might want to re/visit this post if you're interested in living with so-called pests.

* Actually what Marie Antoinette said was 'Release the brioche flour' (eg to the masses). 

** TM says that his final word was that we could use the non-toxic-to-anything-else slug pellets sold by a green firm. I'm delighted to say that so far we're not using any.

If you're interested in questions around how we live, and how we might live more sustainably, I can't recommend highly enough Patrick Curry's academic text book (be warned it's dense; it's also comprehensive, incisive and thought-provoking) analysing the various positions vis a vis the anthropocentric/ecocentric movements within, loosely, the field/s of deep ecology, see: Ecological Ethics, Patrick Curry, Polity, 2011


  1. we had slugs in the greenhouse. For about a fortnight I went round and picked off all the ones I could see and left them on the patio for the birds. It seemed to do the trick, but I bet I'll have to revisit later!

    1. Thanks Elizabeth - fingers crossed that you found them all – BEFORE they'd laid eggs!

  2. My young veggies are really suffering this year too. I've lost half of my salad crop, a third of my courgettes and there is damage to the runner beans which I'm hoping might not prove fatal. I went back and read your previous blog and I think I may move my bird feeders nearer to my veggie beds. I won't be able to watch the birds quite so easily but I'm sure they will help with the pests - I hadn't thought of it before - thanks Roselle!

  3. Thanks Angie. Everyone in England seems to have had a hard start in the veg garden this year. Hope the bird feeders work. I've also given up growing salad - though it's essential to my diet - since we don't have a greenhouse. However I can grow SOME in an old bath tucked into the hedge - the slugs can't make it up the sides, it seems; tho sadly there's not a lot of light there...

  4. I'm posting this by email from Sheena, (thank you, dear Sheena):

    'We had hornets once, living in a small shed at the end of our garden in North Devon. People told me that I should get rid of them, that it would be irresponsible not to because they are dangerous, and in the end I did ring the pest control man and asked 'Please can't I leave them alone?' He was great, he said it's the hornets that are endangered and of course I should keep them. Well, they were fascinating. They went out at first light every day, always along the same flight path, and returned as it was getting dimpsy. At the end of the summer, when the nest was empty (the same nice man told me that the queen never over-winters in it), we brought it indoors. It was the most astonishing construction, strong and fragile at the same time and very beautiful.'

  5. Roselle - If it makes you feel any better, I too have had similar problems with my veg in all respects, with the addition of RABBITS who eat everything they can get their little teeth in to. The latest anti-pigeon ruse is a chicken-wire dome over brassicas. Usually I combat slugs (apart from using nematodes, bits of old copper piping left over from plumbing and a mulch of coffee grounds and crushed eggshells) by only planting things out when they're big enough to cope with losing a few leaves, but this year I've planted things out and they've shrunk rather than grown, and the slugs have demolished them. Oh dear. Good luck. Bx

    PS One of our dogs was severely poisoned by slug pellets (put down by someone else, I hasten to add) and even though she had her stomach pumped, she never really recovered. It was horrible.

  6. Belinda, thanks for tip re coffee ground and eggshells - of course... hmmm would have to drink loads of coffee and eat masses of eggs... But you know I've read somewhere lately, a reputable source, like FOE, that nematodes are a no-no; can't quite remember why, but it's something to do with upsetting the eco-balance I think.

    Dreadful, re the dog. Adds fuel to my fire tho.


  7. Thank you for the tip about the nematodes. Will look into that. Boston Tea Party in Exeter offers their used coffee grounds to gardeners. Maybe someone in Totnes would do the same!
    Also, listening to a phone-in on radio about slugs, someone uses dry porridge oats instead of slug pellets. They kill the slugs when they eat them but not the wildlife that eats the slugs. A woman who has a hedgehog hospital keeps back all the disabled hedgehogs (blind, three-legged etc)in her garden and they completely vanquish her slugs and snails. Lovely thought.

  8. Great ideas, Belinda - thank you! I'll check whether anyone's followed up coffee grounds in Totnes (maybe Transition Town) and if not follow it up myself!



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