Compost heap, October 17, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Goddess of the garden, flower of the woods

Plants grown for food as well as for pure pleasure leave much to give back to the ground at the end of their life cycles.

October 24 – November 6, 2016

Witchhazel in full bloom, October 21, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff.
Witchhazel in full bloom, October 21, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff.

Mt. Washington — What enchantment can follow being part of living, breathing colors as big as trees?

There was a precursor to nature’s next turn when, nine days ago, on the 15th, at my home elevation of 1,700 feet, I was surprised to find myself smiling with recognition and delight as my eyes met the rainbow sparkle of an ice crystal and then an expanse of crisp, white frost, white on green defining and decorating blades of grass, the filigree of carrot tops, and leaflets of royal fern. Very tender plants like yacon and bean vines had their final brush with death that morning.

While summer’s tender plants decline and die, in woodlands and along roadsides, the air is transporting the fragrance of American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoms. Smell your way to the multi-stemmed graceful shrubs, every twig painted with soft sprays of yellow, crinkly, thin-petaled flowers. And if you find a surviving evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), bring your nose close to its four-petaled, yellow blossoms to inhale its lusty perfume. I came across a 4-feet-tall, mostly gone to seed individual that displayed several bright flowers on top. https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/oenothera/biennis/

Winter wheat sown September 11; triangle of winter rye sown October 5. Photo: Judy Isacoff.
Winter wheat sown September 11; triangle of winter rye sown October 5.
Photo: Judy Isacoff.

Hardy crops color the vegetable garden green into early winter. In addition to all the edibles that may feed us from the field until the ground freezes, cover crops will live through winter. Click here for an article on front-tolerant vegetables.Have a look at the photographs of winter wheat sown by mid-September and winter rye, sown on October 5. Their beauty and vitality feed our aesthetic while growing a green manure. The winter rye broke the surface of the ground as a carpet of red spikes. According to an old Japanese proverb, “A poor farmer grows weeds, a mediocre farmer grows crops and a good farmer grows soil.”

Plants grown for food as well as for pure pleasure leave much to give back to the ground at the end of their life cycles. “Don’t waste the waste:” planet Earth would be covered with dead plants and animals if nature didn’t compost. With a minimum of care, everyone can produce humus, or organic fertilizer, from garden debris and food waste. Looked at another way, garden cleanup and compost-making are integral to garden-making; they are ongoing and, at the end of the main season, one of the culminating experiences.

Same compost heap, October 21, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff.
Same compost heap, October 21, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff.

My compost heap has always seemed to me to be a goddess in the garden. Its dynamism is palpable, although most of us haven’t seen the forces, including microorganisms, which transform organic waste into humus. There are as many composting methods as there are gardeners, but the fundamental difference in practice is whether the process of decomposition and transformation will be accomplished with more or less active participation of the compost-maker. Whether contained in a bin or arranged in a heap, there are a few key ingredients that, in balanced proportions, turn garbage into fertilizer. The components are green (or wet) and brown (or dry) organic waste, air and water. The first two compose the carbon-to nitrogen-ratio (C/N.)

Good advice for building your heap and learning more can be found at https://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost/build-a-pile.shtml

Opportunities to participate:

October 30 – Organic activist rally: https://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/

November 12 through April 7 – All about feeder birds; the Cornell Lab’s citizen science initiative for winter bird census: https://feederwatch.org/

January 14 – NOFA MASS Winter Conference: https://www.nofamass.org/events/wc

Resources:

https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/hamamelis/virginiana/

https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/oenothera/biennis/

https://www.botanicalinterests.com/articles/view/26/Frost-Tolerance-of-Vegetables

https://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost/elements-of-composting.shtml

https://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost/build-a-pile.shtml

https://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost/methods.shtml

https://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/compost/glossary.shtml

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/materials.cfm

Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate – At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World, Bantam Books, Random House, New York, 2008