"An intricate, delicate, or fanciful ornamentation."
(The Free Dictionary)

"Whoever loves and understands a garden will find contentment."
          --Chinese Proverb

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Creative Composting

Writing has always been one of my favorite pastimes, but my inspiration for it comes in waves, and I don't produce a steady stream of written works all year long. I tend to focus my energies on different projects in different seasons. I haven’t been attending to my writing during the past few months because I have been researching, planning, and nurturing my incipient garden, which is promising to be bigger than it was last year at this time. For the past two summers I have been experimenting with one method of raised bed gardening that reminds me of the ebb and flow of my writing endeavors: lasagna or sheet-mulch planting. For those not familiar with this method, here is a summary. Place a thick layer of newspapers and cardboard over the grass. Soak thoroughly with water. One can construct foot-high, wooden walls for the new garden bed, but it isn’t entirely necessary. Add straw and other organic waste matter – wood chips, kitchen vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves, yard trimmings, or any kind of non-toxic plant matter. Then pile on a layer of compost, and mulch generously. One option is to cover this layer cake with a sheet of black plastic to speed up the decomposition process, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. And voila, in a couple of months, depending on the temperature, you will start to have a nice, rich earthy mass of nutrients to feed your plants. No double-digging or sweating for hours with a hoe and shovel trying to encourage our rocky New England soil to part with its rubble. This method builds up rather than excavates down. With any luck, you will also be able to dig down into the rotting pile of biological refuse to find a squirming layer of earthworms busy doing their job churning life into the future soil you have started.

It’s really quite a magical natural process, and it all happens without much effort on the gardener’s part beyond the initial set-up. One can even toss in non-animal food scraps and grass clippings over the course of the year and enrich the pile, heaping on new fodder for future gardening. Keep adding organic matter to the mess as time goes on and the soil just gets better and better. And it all happens underneath the surface, under the cover of mulch or plastic, and completely out of view. The magic happens so subtly that peeking under the outer layer during the incubating period would not be advised. Allow the mystery to stay behind Mother Nature’s magic curtain. It is best just to have faith and believe that, indeed, a voluptuous brown earth, steaming and teeming with vital nutrients, will be waiting to nourish your plants and, in the end, you.

Our "Arbor Garden" with its archway made from a recycled cedar swing set.
Hinged, arched doors were created out of reclaimed, old barn boards.

How does decaying vegetal matter remind me of writing you ask? Well I don’t want to reveal too much of what goes on under my mulch, but trust me, covering up the brain and letting the worms work into that gray matter is an absolutely necessary part of my creative process. I suppose that doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, but I warned you not to peek under the outer layer until it’s time to plant! I’ve been very guilty of lifting up that thought-incubating plastic way too many times before the soil was ripe; I was often repulsed and discouraged against creating anything by the nasty sight of ideas not yet fully ready for growing into fully-leafed projects. Remember: Never peek! Trust that nature is stewing and churning beneath the surface of your skull.

When the time is right, and the temperature has the reached proper level, the stink of rotting thoughts subsides and the pleasantly sweet aroma of creative compost will signal that your mind-garden is ready for cultivation. Lift up the top mulch, throw in some seeds, and watch what grows. A veritable cornucopia of essays and poems, art work, and literary fruits will blossom if you just let the land between your ears lay fallow for a little while. Composing in the compost increases your creative yield. Trust me, decay and dirt are good things despite what your mother may have taught you. Now pardon me while I put back my mulch. My artistic compost pile needs to stew a little longer.

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