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Lessons From The Winter Garden
by Marion Owen
December 2, 1999

Every flower of the field, every fiber of a plant, every particle of an insect, carries with it the impress of its Maker, and can--If duly considered--read us lectures of enthics or divinity.
Sir Thomas Pope Blount (1618-1679)

After the snow melted last week I got an urge to take a stroll through the garden. No particular reason, except I know, without fail, that I'll discover something new, get inspired, or if I stay quiet during my little trek around the raised beds, I'll be able to "hear" one of life's little lessons. Such lessons, though they might seem trivial and insignificant at the time, can speak to you when you're looking at flowers, observing clouds, gawking at the moon, or taking kitchen scraps out to the compost pile.

Every few days or so I carry a bucketful of coffee grounds, orange and banana peels, onion skins, tea bags and other organics from the kitchen to the compost pile. Located in the corner of the garden under two friendly spruce trees, a compost bin waits to be fed. Nothing fancy mind you, the bin is a section of wire mesh fencing pulled around in a circle and attached with twisted lengths of plastic coated wire. The gaps in the fencing provides air circulation (so I don't end up with a soggy mess), and easy access for crows, magpies and other birds looking for a snack.

The other day I figured out that I fill a 5-gallon bucket full of food scraps every three weeks (which doesn't include the weeds and garden tailings that accumulate during the heavy growing season). That comes to about 87 gallons of kitchen scraps a month. Multiply that times say, 7,000 people living in the my town of Kodiak, Alaska, and you've got almost 61,000 gallons of potato peelings and apple cores going into the landfill every year. If you think of a gallon milk carton, it's easier to picture how much that equates to.

OK, that's not the divine inspiration I'm referring to. However, on the way back from the compost pile that day, I passed several beds containing plants that looked like they'd been run over by a FedX truck and left for dead. I stopped and took a closer look. Sure enough, dozens of small, bright green, new buds poked out from under the heaps of squishy leaves and stems.

I walked around the other beds and noticed "aliveness" everywhere: buds on the currant and gooseberry bushes, fresh yarrow leaves among the blackened, frost-killed old growth, and a dozen or more sage plants hanging in there.

The appearance of new growth under what most people would call "untidy" was a great validation for me. I never completely clean my garden in the fall, as I believe it's important to leave some droopy leaf material as protective cover for the new stuff. Isn't that what Nature does on the forest floor: leaves fall and in the following spring new life forms under the carpet, nurtured by the minerals and mulch? There is purpose behind jumbled stems, leaves and dead plants left in the garden over the winter, just like there's a purpose to each leaf that falls in the forest.

I returned to the house, empty bucket in hand, and walked over to the sink to rinse it out. "Did you know, as soon as you toss out that stuff, the birds dig through it and scatter it around that corner of the garden?" I was asked. I nodded and smiled. If the crows and magpies appreciated the kitchen tidbits, that was good enough for me. From all that "untidiness" they create, it was easily solved with a rake next spring. Unless Martha Stewart came to visit.

Then I'd hand her the rake.

"Over the Hedge":

"In the end, there is really nothing more important than taking care of the earth and letting it take care of you."Charles Scott"

Author Marion Stirrup of Kodiak, Alaska, has been featured in "Organic Gardening" and "Better Homes & Gardens." Marion also developed PlanTea, the organic tea bag fertilizer. For a FREE SAMPLE send a SASE with 2 stamps to Plantamins, Inc., PO Box 1980, Kodiak, AK 99615; Phone: 907-486-2552. If you live outside the U.S. please send a post card or a-mail to:

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