Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Joy of Composting Redux

…and Double Digging, Too!

November petunia
“No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, November!” ends a poem by Thomas Hood. I remember reading this to my children on some gray November days that must have been much like the days that inspired Hood to write those words. That’s not an accurate description of our part of Nebraska this year, though, and especially not on a warm, sunny day like today. There is still fruit; today before pulling the mostly frozen tomato plants from my garden, I picked a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes. There are flowers, not only the unexceptional chrysanthemums and marigolds in sheltered places, but a few of the more tender annuals, like petunias, continue to bloom here and there. The trees have remarkably more leaves than usual in November, and birds are out and about.

My very small garden beds yielded a constant supply of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers through October. Despite generally warmer than normal temperatures, though, a freeze last week nipped enough plants to make this a good day to clean up the vegetable patches. After pulling the plants, my husband and I dug compost into the soil. The space this freed up in the compost bin was soon filled with layers of dry leaves and the plants we had pulled. The remains of this summer’s tomatoes and peppers and leaves will renew the soil and nourish next summer’s garden.

A post last April about composting said:
Composting is a literally down-to-earth project, something that helps us connect to the Earth and to the basic functions and patterns of living things. The reminder of this connection several times a day as I set aside scraps and garden clippings for the compost pile ends up being a sort of prayer woven through the day, a sense of connectedness to God’s creation, a reminder of our role in caring for creation.  Through these things, it’s a reminder of humility in its true sense: who we are and whose we are.

Compost ready to use
Seven months later, those scraps and clippings and spent flowers have been transformed into a constant source of nourishment for other plants. If setting these things aside was a sort of prayer, the resulting compost is an allegory of how God receives our humble daily prayers and transforms them into something greater that becomes a constant source of nourishment for us and those for whom we pray.

This week brought more reports of record warm temperatures this year and of a pattern of new record highs outpacing record lows by a significant ratio. The preliminary data for October from the Mauna Loa observatory  shows 387.18 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (with 350 ppm being considered the upper safe limit).

A deep connection to the Earth, a love of creation, makes us grieve when we become aware of what is happening, but the joy in this same connection can serve as an antidote to despair. Both our spiritual practices, like prayer for humankind and our planet, and our practices of stewardship, like composting, give us a way of coping spiritually and emotionally with climate change while doing what we can to improve the situation.

Last month, while most of the garden was still producing fruit, I used a couple of empty rows of one bed to try double digging. This is an old garden practice that I had never tried, but which had intrigued me ever since I saw a Victory Garden podcast about it four years ago. (You can see it here.) It’s a great way of amending soil. I used regular compost instead of composted manure. Double digging involves turning the topsoil along with loosening the subsoil and adding compost down deep. For me, double digging was very satisfying. With several small, orderly steps, a fairly large area of soil gets altered in a way that makes it more productive for several years. Now that other areas of the garden are bare and the ground hasn’t frozen, I plan to do more of this.

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