The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pruning for Sunshine.
Soil Food in Recognition of Creation

Cat selfie by Danielle.

Last year our Army veteran created an enormous pile of branches when he climbed up into his trees and pruned with a handsaw. I asked him to prune for me, and he wisely asked for an electric pruning saw, a miniature electric chain saw on an extension pole. I did not wield the saw.

When he tried it out the first time, he was in hog heaven. Yesterday we learned how much an inexpensive tool could do. When I pruned mesquite in Phoenix, I was just the same. The more I cut away, the more some additional cutting seemed necessary and good. A neighbor came over and helped out with all the dragging of limbs to the front for pick-up. He said when we were almost done, "I read your Wormhaven book." He joined the chorus in asking about all the roses.

Mr. Gardener supervised from the fence and talked about the roses too. He said, "I could watch you guys work all day long."

The timing worked out, because the rain predicted all week never arrived. Storms are now blowing north of us across Missouri and south toward Little Rock.

I have been manually pruning since we moved to Springdale, because some tree limbs drooped almost down to the ground.



Four Kinds of Soil Food
While I was waiting for the crew to form, I pruned the newly awakened crepe myrtle and let all the dry material land below to add to the mulch. I still had time so I added sidewalk weeds and their soil to the pile. That looked tacky so I put a bag of wood mulch on top of that. Many times I have built a pyramid of organic food at the base, only to see it shrink down as the soil creatures devoured it.

There are four basic kinds of soil food easily added to benefit plants:

  1. Wood mulch is very slow to decay because of the complex structure of  cellulose. Bacteria breaks it down. Likewise, newsprint lasts a long time while wet and against the soil, holding water, blocking sunshine, and fostering the creatures of rot and decay.
  2. Lignin, which forms bark and the covering of stems is even tougher. Fungi have to  break down lignin.
  3. Tree leaves can decay fast when shredded, or last all winter intact when they come from sycamore trees. They are mostly carbon, so they do not fire up the heat loving bacteria than thrive on simple sugars and make a compost heap warm.
  4. Plant greens and foods are simple sugars that decay fast, attracting bacteria and various soil creatures. Green means more nitrogen, more heat, and faster decay. This group is juicier and adds its own moisture to the process. I throw fallen pears into the compost but leave rotten apples out for birds to enjoy. Starlings hammer apples into applesauce with their powerful, pointed beaks.
All four kinds of food are constantly landing on the soil, only to be raked up and hauled away. I cluck my tongue in pious consternation when I see 15 bags of leaves being trucked away from a property in ironic green bags. Doubtless they buy bags of inorganic fertilizer to green up the lawn they are depriving of food. O tempora. O mores.

Returning food to the soil means a net gain, because solar energy produces so much food in combination with the minerals and water from the soil. Every plant, tree, and bush is productive. Re-using its produce makes them even more productive as the soil creatures capture and retain the elements that feed the roots. Brett and Amy Meyer did that simply by piling leaves under the cherry tree, doubling its production.

Three sisters.

My first Three Sisters garden was planted on top of four feet of compost, a combination of Christmas trees at the bottom, autumn leaves, grass clippings, yard waste, rabbit and horse manure. Nothing had any value in the eyes of most, but in combination with the design of Creation produced Silver Queen corn, pole beans, and pumpkins. Edible purslane grew up too - ever the opportunistic weed that really tastes good.

We are blessed with wonderful soil and big yards in this area, plenty of rain and inexpensive water when it is dry. Most neglect the opportunity, even though they have many mouths to feed. I buy one green pepper, look at the price, and say, "What?" I would rather grow what I can and share the excess.

In the past it was natural for people raised on the farm to have a Victory Garden in their backyards. Children learned gardening skills, and the garden provided food and flowers.