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How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?


Even in Alberta, there are many crops which we could choose to grow in our gardens. Do you like perennial flowers? Lots of people grow a wide variety of such plants, but  maintaining them involves a constant battle with weeds. Others choose edible plants to grow. These may also be artistic, as in some cabbages or large areas planted with lettuce, or string beans. Humming birds love the bright red string bean flowers, so the garden can serve several uses. Other people choose plants that taste good but are not particularly attractive to look at (potatoes for example).

The following is a story which was printed in Dialogue in 1982. It is about some special insects with a special food crop. Enjoy!!

Ant Gardens

Do you like mushrooms? Very few people have a take-it or leave-it attitude to these expensive items. They either love them or hate them. If, instead of eating one, you were to chop up part of a fresh mushroom, and carefully tease it apart in a drop of water, then under a microscope you would see that the mushroom is made up of many tiny tubes (called hyphae) all clumped together.

For us, mushrooms or fungi are tasty, but they do not give us good nutrition. There is however a group of ants found only in the Americas, particularly the Caribbean islands and tropical North and South America. Not only do they love certain fungi, they actually depend upon them for life.

Can you imagine a giant underground ant nest made up of hundreds of rooms? These rooms are lined with millions of tiny fungus tubes (hyphae) growing on chewed up leaves. Projecting from the fungus hyphae are fatter structures. Millions of worker ants mill about feeding on the fat fungus structures, and chewing them up and feeding them to young ants and to the queen of the colony. The worker ants also chew up living leaf parts so that more fungus will grow. At night, the worker ants, with never a dull moment, sally forth from the nest to gather more living leaves to keep their fungus garden growing. A large ant colony can strip the leaves of an orchard in a single night. What an unpleasant surprise for the farmer in the morning!

Is the fungus really important to these ants or is it just a tasty extra? When the queen goes on a mating flight, she always carries along a pellet of fungus. As she prepares her nest, she carefully starts a new fungus garden. Why take all that trouble?

It has been found that eating the fungus is essential to the life of the ant colony. The nutritional content of the swollen fungus bodies has been found to be ideal for the growth of the young ants. The fungus is their only source of nutrition. For the adult ants, plant sap appears to be an important part of their diet. Nevertheless if they did not continue to eat the fungus they would be unable to digest anything at all.

The fungus depends upon the ants’ activities for its life. It cannot spread itself and it needs chewed plant parts for something upon which to grow. We have seen that the ants similarly depend upon the fungus. How does the queen know enough to carry some fungus with her? How do the workers know enough to keep the garden going and to feed the young? It was not chance processes but our Creator who gave these creatures their abilities and tasks. How wonderful is our Creator! How wonderful is His Creation!

March 2016

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