Last month we had a brief wintery spell, broken by winds and a gradual warming trend. Today we will have our third day of rain and a 66 degree high.
I had a double supply of newspapers. The outside box was rain-soaked, then frozen solid. Our neighbors brought two bags, which were dry and prone to flying away in the wind, so earlier plans were scuttled. "Leaves are not going to hold down dry newspapers," our helper argued. Besides, we were still low on leaves, because the trees were still holding onto them.
When three days of rain were predicted, I hauled the semi-frozen papers and the dry papers to the area along the grassy alley. I am growing a green screen there for the spring, a combination of tall bushes and even taller sunflowers. Since all of it will be planted, I wanted a lot of it to be devoid of grass and ready to plant, teeming with soil creatures. Various daily editions of the local paper came loose from their icy bonds for spreading around one area. The dry papers made up the difference. Then I raked leaves, twigs, and loose soil over all of them.
Rain has fallen ever since. If weather allows next week we should have bushels of leaves to rake into the entire back area. We already filled the compost bin once.
Leaves do not want to move, so they create insulation by trapping air pockets, and good mulch by holding water and fostering fungi growth. In New Ulm I surrounded roses with chicken wire and filled the bins with leaves. The leaves protected the roses and fed the soil all winter.
Like the papal conclaves, where many popes enter and many bishops leave, the New Ulm bins were relatively low on leaves by spring. The hardy survivors went into the compost.
Yesterday, I went outside in the rain - in the rain, mind you - to attach the squirrel feeder to the tree. Not long after that, two squirrels were swirling around the tree, deciding whose corn cob was propped up in front of a tiny metal chair. Sassy Sue went outside and had a great time contributing to the action.
Why Cover the Soil with Blobs of Organic Matter?
- A given amount of organic matter (grass, leaves, newspaper, shredded wood, compost) will feed a limited amount of soil creatures.
- The soil creatures (bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, springtails, fungi, earthworms) feed the plant roots by breaking down organic matter into usable chemicals and delivering them to the root zone.
- The soil creatures hold all this nutrition together in a continuous exchange, living, dying, feeding upon one another, so a greater soil population below will feed a larger plant population above - and make it healthier.
- The best way to increase the soil population is to increase the organic matter and provide more water.
- The soil creatures and the humus, individually small storage units often taken for granted, will hold onto water, keeping the plants hydrated and fed during dry spells.