The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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which works as gregjacksonedlp@gmail.com too.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rain Continues - Potatoes Headed for the Straw Bale Garden.
In Praise of Dead Plant Material


The seed potatoes arrived yesterday, but I learned the cut ones needed to dry a bit before planting. If the potato is big enough, more eyes are available for growth. These had subtle eyes, so I guessed while  cutting the bigger ones - and spread them around on a tray.

The drying step may be one of those gardening fantasies, like double-digging, trenching, and putting Epsom Salts around every plant.

One gardener wrote to say, "I can't wait to start removing the old dead stuff from the flower gardens. I've been reading all your articles about gardening and really enjoy all of them."

I am inclined to leave all the old dead stuff, because plant material is food for the soil. Following Ruth Stout, I mulch everything and treat plant material as mulch. She advocated pulling the mulch aside, planting in the bare soil, and pushing the mulch back around the seedlings.

If dead plant material looks unattractive, shredded wood mulch works well to cover it, hold it down, and create a consistent look for the bed. Bare soil will always sprout weeds, especially the irritating ones, but mulch will quash most of them.

If I wanted to hide the ungainly look of compost around plants, I would add a layer of wood mulch.





Consider dead plant material. Dead leaves absorb water and become more like gelatin. That is what we want in and on the soil. Someone has a video on the Net, showing how diaper stuffing can be used to hold water for plants. Innocent gardeners buy the chemical and add it to soil. Leaves do the same while sharing real nutrition with the soil creatures.

Experiment - fill a basket with dry autumn leaves. Life. They are all air - great insulation for a rose garden in the North. Now fill the same basket with wet, slimy, rotting leaves. Oof! They are sponges for water. Repeat the experiment with newspapers. A stack of newspaper cellulose is relatively light. When wet, the same stack is far heavier.

Earthworms are all protein and great diggers who sweeten the soil.
They graze on bacteria, so promote bacteria for more earthworms.

Dead plant material is an excellent soil amendment. That is why I like to kill the lawn with Jackson Mulch before or soon after planting. The intensely alive grass is already loaded with soil creatures. Shutting down the sunlight turns the green grass and the miles of roots into compost. The creatures multiply and hold all this food in the top foot of soil. Inorganic fertilizer, in contrast, kills off creatures, passes into the water table, and has only a temporary effect on the plants.

Fungi are the ultimate decomposers and also the primary sources of nutrition for the roots. When plant material dies, fungi and bacteria and protozoa thrive. When the microbes thrive, the super-large earthworms (in comparison) finish, multiply, and mix around the positive results, adding tunnels for air and the movement of water.

Meanwhile, the birds flock to where dead material supports bug life. As one writer said, the best and biggest bird feeder is a mulched garden. That is another reason why I mulched the Jackson Bird Spa. Birds like mud for nests, but I have mud galore. The mulched spa means the seed falling from the table will stay relatively dry, and the bugs will always be available.

Stacks of newspapers are under the mulch. They will wick water away from the mulch and hold it over the soil. Plastic does not work because the soil needs air. Plastic never stops weeds but becomes part of the problem later. "Landscaper fabric?" - please avoid it at all costs.

Maypop or Passion Flower.