Down and Dirty with Rachel

Oct 24, 2022 | Experiences, Information

What is your favorite season and why? If you are like most people, your answer to the second part of this question will be about the weather, an aesthetic aspect of the season, and/or an activity that the season brings with it. When I asked my fellow workers at Dripping Springs Garden this question last year, however, one answer stood out. Dominic prefers autumn because he likes “to contemplate the dying back and falling away of things.” From one point of view, this sounds morbid and depressing. From another, it is enlightened and celebratory.

I heard someone recently say that if nothing decomposed, Earth would be stacked miles high in dead plant and animal material. But the truth is, if nothing decomposed, there probably would not have been enough life to create a milehigh pile. Death is simultaneously the end and beginning of life. As leaves turn from green to red, orange, and yellow to brown and fall to the ground, they are providing food to detritivores, such as earthworm, and saprophytes, such as fungi and bacteria. These decomposers in turn provide food and nutrients to plants and other soil biota via their excrement and secretions. These soil biotas further make
more nutrients available to give back to the tree and other plants. The decomposition of plants, animals, and fungi (and lysis of bacteria) fuel the next generation of life.

As you start to wind down your garden for the year, take steps to return nutrients and organic matter that are in crop residues to the soil. Cut off your crops at soil level, leaving the roots in the soil. The roots will decompose in the soil, and not pulling out the roots helps to conserve soil structure. Put the top parts of the plants in a compost bin. After the compost is mature in about a year, apply the compost to your garden soil, returning valuable nutrients to your garden and building organic matter. Yes, you are starting to close out one garden season, but you are also beginning future years’ gardens. As you walk around in Mother Nature’s garden this fall, take some time to not only enjoy the changing colors, and also to contemplate the falling away and dying back of things and celebrate the beginning of new life.

As I was writing this article, I came across the article “From death comes life” by Cyrus Martin in Current Biology Magazine. He starts with a quote that I shall end with:

“Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.”

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

puzzle​Last month’s puzzler:

Can you move exactly three toothpicks in the figure below to create exactly three identical squares with no extraneous toothpicks remaining?

Sept. 2022 Puzzle Answer

October’s puzzler: A baseball and baseball bat together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the baseball. How much does the baseball cost?


Rachel Zweig is our Sandoval County Agriculture and Extension Agent