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Why we leave old, dried plants in gardens

By Colette Wolf, UTTC Land Grant Programs Agroecology Extension Educator
22 December 2012

DENNIS J. NEUMANN<>United Tribes News

Like a stringed instrument, the wind plucks the dried corn stalks, sending rustling melodies through the air. Happy notes are added by chickadee and nuthatch, feeding on the dry, seed-packed sunflower heads.

If we listen closer, ladybug chirps can be heard. Their oval, orange bodies travel endlessly through a maze of dried garden plants. Squirrels pack their cheeks with garden leftovers, hustling and squawking their delight.;

Organic gardening depends on daily wildlife activity to nourish soils. The birds, animals and insects help scatter and break down the left-over dried plants. As they feed, their little bodies are nourished, leaving behind manures rich in plant foods.

Then the freeze/thaw action of winter combines with wind, rain and snow to pummel the plants even more. This creates what is often referred to as plant debris. It is recycled back into the soil to feed the next community known as soil organisms. These happy soil tillers worms, nematodes and fungi break down the debris, so it looks like soil, brown and crumbly.

As the soil organisms travel about hunting and gathering, they create tunnels in the Earth. Water and air enter the tunnels, gathering plant foods from the soil. In the spring, roots share these pathways and feast upon the foods in the water. The roots in turn feed the plants that feed us.

Helping this natural cycle is why we leave the old plants in our gardens; they provide next year's plant food. While standing, they provide protection to small birds from winter's cold. As snow swirls and drifts around dried stalks, miniature snow tepees are formed, providing winter shelter. The birds are major garden helpers. They help control insect populations, add manures and transport seeds.

Organic gardening connects us to our natural family. We tap into Mother Earth's community and her economy for exchanging goods. It provides us an opportunity to participate in the 'Give-away' or 'Gifting.'

As we share our organic harvest with each other, we also participate in Mother Earth's Give-away to the wind, plants, birds, animals, insects, soil organisms and water. All having a song. All preparing now, for winter's cleansing cold.


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