Editor's note: Here is the heart of the lazy organic gardening philosophy.

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by Mort Mather

Boy, my garden looks ugly today. It is probably, to the eyes of most people, an ugly garden in winter. Today it is covered with a couple of inches of slush. The corn stalks are most prominent sticking up the tallest though not at full height. They are broken off at mid stem or bent in varying directions. We didn't harvest all the corn this year. Planted too much. What we didn't harvest was left on the stalk for the birds. The jays fed on it for quite a while. If there were any insects in the stalks, I hope birds have found them as well.

The Brussels sprouts stalks are second in prominence. Most interesting-looking are the few cabbages I didn't harvest. The leaves are gone and the heads diminished in size sit atop the bare stems looking like little people. Tomato, pepper and eggplant stems protrude above the slushy snow. There are also random weeds protruding here and there in no particular order. Even their shapes seem random.

There are some neat-looking rows. On either side of a windrow of potato vines there is a smooth, unbroken row of snow. The ground underneath was turned in order to harvest the potatoes. Another row of unbroken snow designates the area where a strip of black plastic mulch did its job of keeping down the weeds. The plants that grew in the plastic had to be cut off at the soil line to remove the plastic.

If the garden looks trashy, it is. The plant residue of the growing season is called trash. One person's trash is another person's treasure. That trash is home to insects and since there are many many more beneficial or benign insects than there are problematic ones it seems to me to be better to leave well enough alone.

The trash is treasure to me for a couple of other reasons. It helps cover the ground and it also traps blowing leaves and snow to further improve the blanket of natural materials I like to see covering my garden in the winter. Snow cover will keep the frost from going as deeply in the ground as it otherwise would which means that the ground will thaw and drain earlier in the spring. Come spring the trash and leave it has trapped will be turned into the soil where it will increase the humus and add nutrients. Where better to put the nutrients that the corn took from the soil last year than in the same place from which it was taken?

To the best of my knowledge I am the only garden writer who recommends leaving last year's crop residue in the garden. Most will tell you to clean it all out and compost it, burn it or take it to the dump. The reason being that you should get rid of insects and diseases that accumulated in your garden last year.

My method has been working for me for many years but I wouldn't recommend it unless you follow my other practices. If you use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides; if you plant the same crop in the same place year after year; if you don't maintain a fertile soil by replacing nutrients annually; if you don't keep a high humus level by adding organic materials; then you should probably treat your garden trash like a hazardous waste.

ŠJanuary 25, 1997


Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



Return to Mort's Home Page.

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