Saturday, March 13, 2010


The link above is to my new Audioboo experiment.  By clicking the link, you should go to an audio message on an alternate method to control garlic mustard.  I'm planning on posting an Audioboo on various garden questions as they come up during the season.  Feel free to ask-in the comments section-about your garden dilemmas.  If it's bothering you, it's bedeviling somebody else too, so share the puzzlement!

But I was not standing in the woods in the photo above thinking about garlic mustard last Thursday.  (It's there, for sure, but garlic mustard is just another dull control issue; no mystery at all)

The true mystery is: where did all the leaves go?  All the leaves.  Decades and centuries of leaves, leaves all the way back to the last glaciation of Northern Illinois...and in front of me, there is only a soft mat of last season's leaf fall.  It's lovely to walk on and if I scuffle a bit, there is  vibrant green  just underneath the leaf mat....all the hardy annual, biennial and perennial species waiting for longer days, warmer nights to begin another summer.

The leaves have all been sheet composted, of course; a season's worth of sunlight, transmogrified by chlorophyll, is now part of the soil ecosystem on the forest floor.  That's not really mysterious; I've had several severe professors who convinced me to learn the chemistry.  I've seen the soil ecosystem monsters under the microscope.  They are a spooky looking club, and sometimes I hated to handle the glass slide they were stuck to even though I've never been the least bit squeamish about plain old dirt. They are astoundingly efficient too: season after season of leaves, thousands of tons of biomass, and the forest floor is not one centimeter higher; they have eaten it all.  The sun shines; the trees grow; the leaves fall.  It's a child's coloring book of the world.

The Good People in my neighborhood are raking their lawns today.  They raked them last fall too.  I  look at what's in the piles (I can do this without appearing to be a nitwit because I have a dog to walk and when the dog stops to look, so do I or vice versa) that they leave by the curb:  Austrian pine needles, browned grass, a few pine cones, leaves that blew over from my garden because I don't rake.  The forest floor basically but without the soil ecosystem.  That ecosystem never develops much complexity before somebody broadcasts a layer of weed killer and rakes the food away.

While pondering the disappearance of a millennium of leaves in the woods, I note that here is what all gardeners crave...high organic matter, moisture retentive, perfect draining black soil with a layer of mulch included.  I might possibly sprout roots from my boots if I stand here awhile; I might transmogrify myself without the blessing of chlorophyll.  I am tempted to press an ear to the ground-try to hear the chemical conversation with the universe.  But there are frequent joggers running across that bridge you see in the background of the photo, and I haven't bail money in my pocket to risk alarming them.

To the very next person who asks me a garden question, I will say: go to the woods and look for the leaves.
No, I won't say that. It's not nice to go all Zen Buddhist on people just looking to grow a decent head of broccoli, to tell them to put an ear to the earth and eavesdrop on the gossip of microscopic monsters and ion exchanges.

Meanwhile, over there to the right is a lush patch of moss, and I know a woman who is forever spraying buttermilk and green tea on logs to get a moss garden to thrive.  I will borrow a wad of it for her and explain that the way to get moss really growing is to put it on a stump amongst the leaves and lay some sticks over it.



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