The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Claims and Counter-claims about the Soil and Plants


Yesterday a reader said, "You have improved the soil in your yard."

I said, "No, God has improved the soil through His creatures."

"But you have improved it through adding earthworms and mulch."

I plead guilty to adding earthworms and mulch, but the amount of work I do is nothing compared to all the creatures in God's management system. This change in the yard is very much like the work of the Christian Church. When we work in harmony with the Word of God, we see the multiplying effects of the Holy Spirit.

One little nudge can have great consequences. One Lutheran writer needed a copy of MS Office to do his work. A gift from a reader paid for it, and he could work far more efficiently. A Lutheran researcher needed an inexpensive computer to do his work. A small gift for a used computer allowed him to continue his work. Often the consequence is just a matter of many tiny steps, just like gardening. As Luther advises, "Do your work faithfully and wait for God to carry out His will." There is nothing glamorous about pastoral visitation, but that has immediate and long-term results. Everyone agrees about that, but very few pastors make that their regular work.

Sassy makes sure I take her for a walk every morning and afternoon. We visit a lot of different streets. She likes to explore each yard, so I look over what the residents are doing. I see strange contradictions. One man had two KnockOut roses and neglected both. I saw a large weed grow out of one and tower over it by several feet. Neither rose was mulched or pruned, so they slowly changed into two more weeds.

In another yard, a large tree stump is being burned and slowly removed by chipping away the burnt wood. The residents have planted a new tree but put the chips on the curb to be taken away. They could have mulched the new tree with the old tree's cremains. They have substituted easy work, moving the chips over a few feet, for the harder work of leaving the pile on the curb.



Great Depression Logic - Everything Has a Purpose
People were more accustomed to using everything up during FDR's Great Depression. The old practical knowledge was almost gone when Obama started his own Great Depression. I see large sunny yards with nothing except grass growing. The laziest gardeners could turn their grassy areas into productive mini-farms in a year or two.

Two examples are raspberry and blackberry plants. Both love the sun. They multiply through their root systems. I turned a weedy, mostly hidden side of our house and planted a few blackberry plants in the mulch, adding red wiggler earthworms. Weeds stopped growing and the blackberries became established (last year). This year, without any more work, the blackberry canes have sprouted around the corner to grow on the east and west sides of the house. White flowers booming on them suggest berries forming and bees being fed.

I planted raspberry canes in the notorious and often reviled (by me) straw bale area, the sunny garden on the south side of the house. Potatoes and strawberries were a disaster last year, slug fodder. Roses did well there, but they had ferocious weed competition near the end. The ignored raspberries are now spreading through area on their own and will probably take over in time. Roses were easily transplanted into our helper's yard, where they are thriving, and into the maple tree garden, where they are already blooming.



Using Organics - Not Throwing Them Away
Trees create an enormous volume of organic matter. I am happy to have my neighbors put all their leaves in green bags so I can pop them into the trunk and easily spread them where I want the soil improved.

By creating a compost pile with a circle of chicken-wired, I provided Mr. Gardener a place to put all his garden trash - namely vines and plants he uprooted or trimmed. Fresh greens break down faster and energize the excess leaves put in the pile. Here is how to do it:

  1. Buy a section of chicken wire.
  2. Make a circle out of it in the shade in the back of the yard.
  3. Fill the circle with leaves, grass, plants, weeds, and things like the remains of potted plants.
  4. Add red wiggler earthworms.
  5. Stop using fertilizer, weed killer, and pesticides.

Most weeds can be pulled and placed around plants as mulch. The big leafy weeds are both mulch and fertilizer. The annoying spreading ones can be mulched over and turned into compost.

One reader gets coffee grounds in large amounts.  Coffee grounds do not have the magical properties some attribute to them, but those pounds of weed free organic additions will feed a lot of critters in time, especially when the additional food gets broken down and passed through many generations of little beasties.


A Profound Difference
Chemical fertilizer bought at the store will pass through into the water table and not contribute much. The bad effects include driving the useful soil creatures away or killing them.

Adding organic matter is not so dramatic, except for stored rainwater (my favorite). The leaves, grass, pulled weeds, and manure is different in this regard - the additions stay in the top foot of soil where all the roots take their nutrition (even trees).

When the soil is amended with organic material and tilled by the noble red wiggler earthworm, that root-zone will hold the maximum amount of useful chemicals in the form of earthworms, fungus, protozoa, bacteria, springtails, centipedes, mites, millipedes, moles, spiders, grubs, and slugs. As the feeders become food - as they must - those chemicals are passed around and into the plants, which cycle the useful chemicals back into the soil.