Autumn brings bird migrations, school buses, frost, and pumpkins. Here, living on the western slopes of the Catskill plateau, autumn is time to put the perennial gardens to bed for the coming winter. And for that, the key is mulch.
Over the last two decades, our engagement with the land we inhabit has slowly shifted. It has been a process, not taken from a book or championed on some program. Instead, we have gradually acquired our practices listening to the rhythms and watching for the disclosures of Nature herself.
Organic need not be a packaged product
The organic mind frame has been co-opted by marketing schemes, a huckstering of values following the playbook that gave us diet soda and Tang. An organic mind frame can’t be found in a shopping cart. While I can get lost for hours in the pages of plant and seed catalogs, especially in the frozen silence of winter, it’s when I’m getting my hands into the soil that insights into the mystery of life starts to permeate my being. In the soil mycelium and earthworms are royalty. In the soil, life and death perform an ecstatic dance.
For all the clear virtues of composting, we have never succeeded at the venture. After a few half-hearted attempts, we simply never gave it much further effort. Dry mulching has been more than sufficient to meet our modest needs.
Hay, leaf material, and wood ash are the extent of our amendment activities for the soil. None come from a store. Instead, we gather the dry grasses with a scythe. We pile up the ash from our wood stove and campfire pit. And we mulch our leaves.
The organic mind frame I am extolling claims the processes of nature already present are more than enough, and the challenging task we face is to be but a participant in the cycle of natural replenishment. Are we willing to be a participant in, not a controller of, Nature?