The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mulching the New Roses.
Plus Soil Follies

The fungus has trapped the nematode, dissolving its body,
bartering its chemicals for some delicious carbon from the plant's roots.
Fungi need carbon to grow.


Mulching the new roses requires a large bag of newspapers and plenty of cyprus mulch.

The mulching began last year, with 10 bags of mushroom compost added around the maple tree's perimeter, cyprus mulch spread under the drip-line of the tree. The idea was to create enough soil to plant some shade-tolerant roses, since the tree was so poorly managed. Our helper and I pruned as many branches as we could at that time - safely. This spring our landscaper friend trimmed all the trees with great glee, using a powerful, small electric chain saw.

When we moved into this house, the maple tree was a disaster of suckers and untended bulb growth, plus weeds growing around the base. Cutting out the suckers growing up from the base helped. More trimming followed.

We now have a circle of new roses growing around the tree, drawing attention to more weeding and suckering that needs to be done. Mulching creates an attractive, woody look while feeding the roses year around. Earthworms like a damp, dark environment. When I dug in moist areas around the tree, the red wigglers were plentiful and active. They were almost absent where the soil was dried out.



Soil Follies
Many false ideas about gardening come from earlier ages. When woodland soil was broken up in colonial days, and animal manure added, production improved. That changed the soil from being woodland and fungi dominant to having more bacteria, which is good for vegetables. But the theory of the time was - plants eat soil.

Tull also actively encouraged farmers to loosen soil before planting crops; he had noticed that vegetables did better in loosened soil and from this concluded that plant roots possessed little mouths and ate soil particles (how else could a plant ingest nutrients?). Believing that loose soil consisted of smaller particles that would more easily fit into root mouths, he developed a horse-drawn hoe to put his theory into practice. His writings later caught the attention of gentlemen farmers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who encouraged their fellow Americans to break up soils. The end result is that most home gardeners still break up and turn over their soil at least annually, even though we know plant roots don’t eat soil.

Lewis, Wayne;  Lowenfels, Jeff; (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 2803-2808). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

If plants eat soil, then it makes sense to turn it over and fluff it up, so the rototiller industry continues unabated. Leaves should be composted or mulch-mowed into the grass, not gathered up and hauled away. My neighbor at Almost Eden Nursery collects bags of autumn leaves to use as free food for his plants.

Fungi feed the plant roots directly in that delicate interface between soil and root hairs. Since one teaspoon of soil can have three miles of fungal tubes, breaking that up should be minimized. Soil should be left undisturbed, as much as possible.

Let me offer one anecdote from 2015. Our heavily mulched old rose garden had plenty of maple leaves stuck on top. Our helper said, "I will have to get out the blower and get rid of the leaves." I knew that would also blow the mulch around, so I suggested waiting. "Soon they will be gone."

Leaves do not leave this yard. I add leaves from other yards. Now all the leaves are gone from the rose garden, because the earthworms have pulled them down and digested them. The leaves, newspapers, and wood are all part of the food the roses get daily. No fertilizer is added, and the roses are spectacular.



Dandelions
My favorite herb likes to sit on top of the rose garden mulch and send its tap roots down below. They are mining calcium, which they can get deep down but not at the surface. Some call dandelions lawn nails. All plants like soluble calcium, but not all have such deep roots.

I bought a very large pair of scissors to trim the most aggressive dandelions and use their nutrition for the roses. I like cordless trimmers, but they nibble slowly, good for large swaths of trimming.

Lawn weeds can be influenced by the soil food web. Dandelions, for example, appear in calcium-poor soil surfaces. Their long taproots seek out the calcium they lack, and the calcium is deposited in the soil when the dandelion dies. In time— unfortunately, sometimes quite a long time— the soil food web biology works this calcium into the upper layer of soil, where it has been missing.

Lewis, Wayne;  Lowenfels, Jeff;   (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 2630-2633). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

Traditional theory holds that plants need the macro-ingredients (NPK) and also the micro-ingredients. That lends itself to soil mixing, but ignores the need for trapping nutrition where it is needed. The inorganic fertilizers pass through to the water table, providing only a little boost. Notice how often the great, wise gardening books say, "Add more fertilizer after blooming, or just before, and later too." Every gardening center will argue against manure because, you know, salts in it. And what are inorganic fertilizers? Nevermind.

The great and wise argue for fertilizer because most of it is wasted. The more one uses the chemicals, the more they wreck the soil food web. Lacking the natural controls, more chemicals are added to treat the problems cause by the previous wonder-chemicals.

Tuscan Sun rose - $5 each.

The soil creatures move nutrition around by devouring each other, and that traps these nutrients by holding them in their bodies, to be used when necessary by the fungi feeding the plant roots in exchange for carbon. Thus an active, healthy soil food web will maximize the number of soil creatures in the root zone - the top 12 inches - trapping useful, soluble chemicals and moisture.

Soil creatures do not feast and sink down into the water table, to pollute it with their dead bodies. Their deaths simply feed other creatures.



Bad Foundation
Most gardening is based on a poor foundation - evolution. Thinking about a Creation with a Purpose changes everything, especially Creation through the Word of God.

"Horrors!" - think the thought police. But early American and European scientists thought that way about everything around them. They were studying what God had done, not what chaos had developed by accident over billions of years.

When we look at every aspect of Creation having a purpose and many dependencies (bee, clover, nitrogen, soil creatures) - then all our practices change. They get easier and less expensive.

Every plant cell is a collection of chemical factories.