Hanging out with Barry the Bacteria

Hanging out with Barry the Bacteria

Community Gardens Ever have one of those friends, those annoying, always busy, always doing good and worst of all…

always-right friends?

Yeah, me too — his name is Barry, and he’s a bacteria. Perhaps I should back up a bit to how we met.

Anyone that knows me, knows I’m in a major edible landscape permaculture gardening phase, even those that just casually know me get the hint, I mean, you show pictures of kids or grandkids. I whip out my phone with pictures of the seeds I just got from a hermit up in the Ozarks. You have stories of sporting victories, I regale with tales of battling vine borers, you think your fresh baked cookies smell good, here, get a whiff of my compost. Yeah, I’m THAT kind of gardener. I know what I know, have opinions about things I don’t know, and always trying to learn more, albeit usually the hard way (hey we learn from our mistakes right? So I should be up there with Einstein pretty soon).

Anyhow, with this community gardening thing I’d been trying to get leaves to spread around as a mulch during the fall, to sit over winter and (hopefully) improve the soil come spring, suppressing weeds and generally showing everyone just how smart I’ve been saying I am.

(Really, I’m smart, I know because people always are telling me how I’m smart as.. But they never finish).

It started off just mowing the leaves that fell on the two residential lot sized garden area. Then “borrowing” bagged leaves from the curb, was able to talk the city workers vacuuming up leaves to dump a load, which I had spread out by the end of the day by hand. Got a load from a landscaper, then another, then the city guys dropped off like 6 loads in 2 days..

Ok, ok, geez, guess I know what “Christmas Break” will be. Really really focused on getting these leaves spread out, by hand…. When I noticed.

Several of the piles, only 2-3 days old, were already getting hot, with steam rising, the insides obviously cooked, dry and composting.

While my first inclination is of course to double the efforts to complete the task.. A voice finally got through my wax encrusted ears saying STOP! LET US WORK!.. It was my new friend Barry and the billions of his brothers, sisters and cousins. You see, nature wants these leaves to rot, to break down, to compost. The Elves if you will in nature’s composting workshop are the bacteria, fungi, worms and multitudes of other critters large and microscopic will break this material down unless we stop them. Which organisms will work depends mainly on availability of water (or not), Air (or not), temperature and the absence of any substances that would kill or slow them down. With all the food (organic material), air from being sucked up, shredded and dumped, some moisture and the large pile acting as insulation, the centers of these large piles were breeding Barry’s kinfolk faster than, um.. Bored rabbits.. Yeah, bored rabbits. And with all that activity, eating, bacterial effluent and breeding..

Heat was being generated speeding the process up even more. And it smelled gloriously earthy.

Now at some point the process will at best slow down, and at worst turn anaerobic as the moisture and oxygen are depleted..

Unless.. The pile is turned (re-introducing oxygen) and re-hydrated. So, while my first instinct was to as quickly as possible spread all these leaves into a 6+ inch layer of mulch around the entire lot, Barry has reminded me of a previous article where I exhorted a soon to be sworn in official and others to “do nothing” and “let those that will, do”. So that is what I plan to do over the break, as weather and energy permits. Turn one or more of these vehicle sized piles over by hand, fluffing and watering as I go. The only concern is with using the municipal water for the purpose, that concern arising from the fact that the water is “treated” to make it safe to drink, meaning, it’s been all but sterilized and contains enough chlorine to kill bacteria enroute through the expanse of aging water lines, where it sometimes sits for hours if not days before exiting a person’s sink tap, still safe for human consumption, that which kills the bad bacteria, would most surely render my compost closer to Culloden Moor with Barry and his kin suffering the fate of the Jacobite Highlanders.. (I digress, but you should look it up, interesting story).

So, if you drive behind the Marion Police Station and see some large brown piles, it’s not trash, it’s soon to be compost, and after that tomatoes, beets, corn, beans, squash, cucumbers. Barry won’t be there, bacteria after all don’t live long, but his progeny will be there by the billions and if you see it steaming.. Step out and get a whiff of life, of nature, of future nutrition.

And if, after the holiday meals, there are thoughts of “I need to work this off” or possible new year’s resolutions…

I have an idea.

By David Corbett