The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Friday, November 28, 2014

"Look Mom - Cavities"
Why I Leave Our Dead Tree Up



A Way To Garden:

The other day, I had to finally reckon with a 40-foot-tall old, twin-trunk birch that was in decline, and dropping massive portions of its crown on two small outbuildings. To the arborist crew’s surprise, I didn’t let them take it all down, or even cart away most of what had to be cut. Here’s why:
Biomass.
Removing all that living or recently living mass of organic material would be a big loss, biologically speaking, for the complex organism I call my garden, the one corner of the world I am completely responsible for.
“By some estimates,” the National Wildlife Federation says, “the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem.”
Some experts recommend an ideal snag population to be about three dead standing trees per acre—that’s how important they are.
Don’t remove any more of a dying or damaged tree than is required for safety reasons. Even a high stump can support a lot of wildlife action, compared to a clean cut made at ground level, or worse, a ground-out stump.
birch trunk on groundWho will thank you? Cavity nesters (from pileated woodpeckers who can actually excavate, to secondary cavity nesters such as flying squirrels, wood ducks, and even bluebirds. Any creature that is at least partly insectivorous, since insects and other small invertebrates will show up to feast on the carcass. Birds such as hawks and owls, who want a good vantage point to survey the area for prey. Animals as small as salamanders and snakes or as large as bears, who may enjoy the hiding place a fallen tree provides. One of my favorite birds, the shy little brown creeper, likes to nest beneath loose bark, for instance, and other animals cache foodstuffs for later use there, too. The list is long.

More at this link
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GJ - I was pleased to find two dead trees in our backyard. One was a potential hazard, so I took the remains away. The other is standing tall and barren, holding our garden hoses at the moment. 

Long ago I learned the value of organic diversity. Since each type and variety of plant supports individual species, reducing a yard to photogenic splendor is going to suppress birds and bugs - since birds are purpose-driven to eat bugs.

I do not want to mix Kool-aid for humming bird feeders, I want to feed humming birds naturally. They need more than soda pop, and they gravitate to plants with nectar and insects. In Phoenix three small plants became large bushes that fed hummers throughout a long blooming season. Hummers flitted around the yard all the time and often got their showers while I was watering plants. More than once they buzzed near my head, offering their thanksgiving.

The dead tree in our yard could host or feed a number of birds. They have live oak, maple, and sycamore. I was going to trim one branch of the sycamore when a nesting birds scolded me for getting near her brood. Our helper said, "You better leave them alone," so I did not foreclose on their home.

My neighbor is mow-mulching his leaves or cleaning them up in other ways. I am mulching them in the front yard and raking them toward the greenery fence in the backyard. The chemical gardening books will say, "Leaves are OK if you want to use them for compost or mulch, but they are mostly carbon and very low in nitrogen."

Since fungi feed plants and trees, what are those dead tree leaves but individual carbon credits, waiting to feed soil fungi who must have carbon to grow? The leaves are fertilizer starters, blowing around and settling where I need them most.


This is an easy experiment.

  1. Buy red wiggler earthworms  and put them under an ornamental bush - or any bush. 
  2. Make a point to put globs of grass from the mower, leaves, and twigs under that bush. Trimmings from the bush can be cut up and added to that mulch.
  3. Rake autumn leaves under the bush, and keep it mulched all spring and summer.

The pile of debris will shrink steadily while the bush thrives. Earthworms, fungi, and soil creatures will reduce the organic matter to food needed by the bush, making tunnels for water and manure, aerating the soil and keeping it root friendly. The roots manage the fungi with carbon, exchanging plant carbon for nutrition and water from the fungi.

For example, worms pull mulch material into underground dens for shredding; the results are nutrient-rich worm castings, more worms, worm tunnels and dens, better water retention, and improved aeration. All manner of micro- and macro-arthropods are able to live in mulches, speeding decay, adding to the soil’s organic content, and attracting other members of the soil food web. 


Jeff Lowenfels,  (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 2077-2080). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

The chemical gardening books want people to think they need to fertilize the soil. No, they need to feed the soil organic matter so the soil creatures can convert the organics to useful food and trap it in the root zone.

Inorganic fertilizers mostly pass  through the soil to pollute the water table. Mulches and compost stay in the soil in the form of larger populations of soil creatures.

Organics do not need to be tilled or dug into the soil. They will be used as they are needed by the soil creatures. The author who taught me this argued that compost will be pulled down to feed the soil up to a point - with the remainder on top serving as a mulch.

Needless to say, congregations have fooled themselves into the same dead-end tactics of chemical fertilizing. They use man's wisdom to create artificial splendor instead of feeding their flocks with the basic Gospel of Christ.

Whenever the church leaders are told the truth about this fact, they do not repent. They beat the truth-teller like a rented mule.