First published in Franklin Journal
What a marvelous surprise awaited me this morning when I looked outside and the first thing I saw was my backyard populated with robins. Imagine! This time in October! I don’t think I have seen such a thing here, but they are known to stick around, as long as there is food. Perhaps, they were getting a snack before hitting the interstate. They were not here long. On the other hand, my bird-feeder was delightfully full of birds all day, excited to see I had finally refilled the feeders. The blue jays, I swear were practically giddy.
There were swallows, nut hatches, chickadees, sparrows, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and one tiny, green bird. All were excited, because the feeders had been empty for a couple of days and were now filled with their favorite mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. The ginormous popular further out in the backyard was full of raucous starlings and grackles. They were anticipating gorging on the cherry tree. As far as I’m concerned, the cherries are ready, but I think they wait for the cherries to have a good freeze. Hopefully, they’ll have a long wait! As I watched, I couldn’t help think that it’s too bad people from all different cultures couldn’t do as good of a job sharing resources, as these birds do.
The feeders had gone empty, as I had spent the weekend putting gardens to bed. I used to wonder if it was worth it, but one year I wasn’t here to do it and the next spring, I sorely regretted they had not been properly prepared. I wait to start the process until the first frost has hit; the bees are done with the flowers; and the birds have harvested most of the seeds and berries and the lingering, stray insect. One of my gardens, I keep clear and organized. My other two I try to keep balanced between live and let live, and some semblance of organized chaos. I have moderate success. At any rate, I have plenty of herbs and flowers to provide not only enjoyment for myself, but for the birds and insects, as well.
I don’t clear my gardens down to the ground; whisking away every last scrap of debris. Indeed, I take advantage of the autumn leaves to not only decay into soil food, but also provide protective insulation through the winter. I leave plants that dry into hollow stalks to provide homes for bees through winter. Some plants, like my peonies, I will cut back, but blanket the shortened stalks with compost, to not only provide protection, but the compost nutrients will work into the ground through the winter. This weekend University of Maine at Farmington will have compost for sale next to the former location of the Farmington Sandy River Recycling for $30/ a cubic yard. It’s a community/campus driven project. I may mosey over and snag some. Gardens appreciate a new layer of compost to
snuggle them through winter. In the spring, it can be worked into the soil.
Gardens don’t die from fall through to spring and suddenly burst into life when winter is over. There’s a great deal of life going on in the soil; in hollow stalks; and all the nooks and crannies plants have to offer to now slumbering insects and their incubating eggs. The stray piece of bark may be the safe harbor for a weary bee. I am protecting an orchestration of insects that in the spring will work to keep each other in check and provide food for birds. The winterizing process of insects is part of the cycle of life to protect and preserve healthy soil which will allow for healthy food to grow for insects, birds, animals, and human beings. Not cutting everything to the ground and clearing away every scrap of debris is my part in that cycle.
These are sensible reasons to not sweep gardens clean. I have selfish reasons, as well. I will imbibe in observing the artistic achievement of autumn’s frost edging drying, curled leaves and crowning lingering seeds and berries. Later, with berries and seeds now barely hanging on, winter’s snow will replace the frost with a chilly, draping blanket, providing stark contrast. When spring arrives once again, my efforts will be further rewarded. There will be the thrill of observing herbs, flowers and other plants, poking their way up through leaves and compost to complete the cycle and rejoin with the warming sun.