Garden Dreams

I used to dream about worms. If that sounds odd to you, you are probably not a composter.

My dreams were inspired by piles of leaves, reclaimed from curbs, moistened by a foot and a half of snow which soaked in as it melted, full of earthworms busy at the work of breaking down my layered leaves to dark, nurturing humus. When I turned these leaves with a pitchfork, worms were everywhere. So I used to dream of worms, excited about what they meant to my garden.

Years later I have a large, productive compost pile – large by personal garden standards, thus by mine.

A ten foot portion of the main compost pile

It is tucked up against a hillside sheltered by junipers, over twenty five feet long and six feet wide. Along this length, the pile is in various stages of readiness. The outermost edges tend to dry out, thus process slowly. There are certain areas which seem to cook up most readily, perhaps because the depth is optimal, or perhaps from the activating effects of the remnants of years of previous batches.

I explore with the pitchfork, turning a bit here and there til I find a place where there remain no trace of the original character of the materials, where everything is dark and damp and fragrant in that wonderful earthy way of humus. From this area I harvest, filling bags to carry into the garden.

Two seasons ago I nearly emptied this pile with all the rose planting I’d been doing, then rebuilt it in fall. Last season I gathered my materials from ancillary piles (one is similar in layout, about 15 feet long, but more shaded so less productive) and allowed the main pile to cook and age. And now the main pile is ready – a source of life for the garden.

There are areas of my smaller, colder garden which are buried every fall in large, platy leaves blown in from the neighboring park. In spring I spend many frustrating days fishing these leaves out from around the bases of the roses, so last fall I tried an experimentI filled the basins around each rose with compost. Some garden experiments are a success, others not. This one gets an A+.

The original intent, to lessen the effort of the spring clean up, turned out to be only a small part of the eventual benefit. As hoped, pulling the masses of flattened leaves from the rose canes was far easier with the bases of the plants hidden and protected. The soil is in better condition and thus so are the plants.

But the bonus has been the effect on the small plants, the ones which came barely alive through winter. As often happens, spring revealed a large number of plants that looked nearly dead. This year I left most untouched, cutting back nothing, clearing away only the large wind-borne leaves. In other springs these plants would have tried to grow only to be killed by repeated freezes. But with the compost undisturbed and protecting them, nearly all have survived and are now putting out healthy new growth.

Such a dramatic and clear effect inspires me now and I harvest bags of compost to heap on the soil of the large garden. Good soil is built then exhausted and rebuilt. This is a year for rebuilding, for feeding the worms which do my digging for me. How else to maintain so many roses, so much garden space and still have a life, but to dream of worms.

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