Mother Natures Press Secretary



I lay on the hammock strung in the corner of my living room and look out the bay window at the cascade of color in my yard. Every yellow headed daisy and pink pedaled coneflower has a butterfly perched atop it, it’s a sea of color punctuated by the dancing wings of the butterflies.

My yard is a living organism, alive with textures and colors that flow and change with the seasons. It is now summertime in North Central Texas and it’s the butterflies’ time to frolic with the flowers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I take inventory of how things are faring in the late summer. The fennel doesn’t look so hot after the spring feeding of the caterpillars. Though summer this year has been taxing, vegetation rarely enjoys a time of no rain and water from the sprinkler is not the same as that wet stuff that falls from the sky, yet my yard is alive in blooms.

My friend Sarah came to visit last week and as she strolled the gardens she said, “Yours is the only yard that has any blooms around here and seeing how thick your mulch is, I now know why.” Thick mulching is my motto. If you think you have enough add more. I spend the fall collecting sacks of leaves that I lay thickly over all my garden beds. Once the beds have a thick blanket I open the gathered leave bags and make a pile in a protected area so I have leaves with which to replenish the beds. That dear friends is my secret.

With fall in the air and the drought dropping leaves now is the best time to start a garden by gathering leaves. I love the process especially with a friend and a large truck. We drive around taking turns leaping out and flinging bags into the back bed of the truck. We get to see new neighborhoods and spend time having some cheap fun. This last season I got the electric companies tree trimmers to drop off a couple of truckloads of shredded mulch. At this time of the year it is mostly ground up leaves with little actual wood, meaning it will decompose very quickly in the hot Texas summer. I used this shredded mess to define the borders of the gardens creating soft edges that were up to 3 feet high. Seems high but I know that in a few months my beautiful and industrious earthworms will be digesting the mulch into a nice nutrient dense manure that feeds the garden beds. This thick high border becomes my guide of how many leaves to add to the beds.

Soil health means plant health which in turn means human health, water health and the intricate web of life continues in my yard on a minute level. All that I do is feed the earthworms. First I invited them into my yard by providing them with the environment they need to grow fat and reproduce now all I really need to do in my yard is keep feeding them. Joel Salatin, my farm guru said once when talking about chickens; “it is imperative that chickens need to live in a habitat that allows them to live their chicken-ness”. That simple statement helped me to see that all living creatures have certain parameters they need to live happy and meaningful lives. All living things (yes, soil is a living organism) have parameters from where they live their lives to their healthiest. As a farmer I see the wisdom of treating every living thing you are caretaking, to meet their highest needs. Or as Salitin so brilliantly states: giving nature their nature-ness.

The question for me then became: what do earthworms need? Enter Darwin’s The Formation of Mould Through the Action of Earthworms, not his most popular tomb but an incredibly detailed look at earthworms and how they raise soil fertility at a rate humans would be hard pressed to replicate. Earthworms are my greatest asset and I believe it is why my gardens exceed my neighbors in size of blooms, health of plants, lack of any pest problems and greatly reduced need for supplementary water. Of course I carefully choose my plants and their varieties for this harsh climate.

Gardening is fun and it is about observing and imitating nature’s patterns, working with nature rather than fighting against it. I always like to step back when I see something ‘wrong’ in the garden and see what is going on, like too many ants. After years of watching ants I noticed that they congregate in places where they have lots of food to eat, like my compost pile, but also around rocks. I may be able to visually see the problem while other times I do not have a clue, but I trust their wisdom and I give them some space to do their job. I am never one to step in and eradicate them. Do I never kill ants? Of course I do but I never use chemicals, it has never been a choice for me. When the ants threaten a special crop, like my grandchildren (tee hee), I will move them.

Wanting to live a life with no poison means I need to invest time in understanding why I have the problem invasion in the first place. In other words is there something I can see that needs addressing. I need to understand ant’s nature and what their role is in my garden. I am sure that ants were not put on this planet to drive me nuts surely they have a purpose. Ants, like termites, are nature’s decomposers breaking down foreign substances. Next time you see a mound appear in your landscape step back and look to see what is new that they seem to need to break down.

Here is what I have noticed in my yard, ants will leave my compost pile after everything has broken down or when some balance has been achieved that my human eyes cannot see. Try to see nature from a different point of view, look to see how to work with rather than fight the environment you are caretaking and grow the world you want to live in. Watch your world, smell the roses, gather leaves and feed the earthworms.

©2014 Alicia Cotilla

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