Some days I enter the garden with a machete. It is not actually for bushwhacking through the remaining spring grasses and weeds, although plenty are still standing, but those we handle with mowers and weed eaters. The machete is actually a perfect tool for chopping up past-their-prime kales and chards and lettuces and the big leaves on going-to-seed root crops like turnips and rutabagas.
Summer is a seasonal change-over time in the garden. The greens and root vegetables that thrive during the winter cold and rains can’t take the dry heat of summer. So those plants are replaced with tomatoes and beans and squashes, the sun lovers.
But the winter crops don’t leave. They become part of the decay and mulch that feed the newcomers, or that quietly nourish the beds retired until planting next fall. And the machete assists by chopping the big leaves and stems into small pieces, creating multiple edges for the deconstruction crew – from worms to bacteria – to munch on.
There was a time when spent plants and weeds would be removed from the garden. Now we keep everything inside the gates. The plants are chopped to re-nourish beds. The weeds are added to one of the swales (dips we have created) to increase their “sponginess” and keep water from running out of the garden when it rains.
In nature, most growing things die in place; most debris from trees and shrubs remains where it falls. So we mimic that recycling in the garden. Why take all that good organic matter elsewhere?
It’s lovely, really. Everything has a place. Everything belongs. As gardeners, we rearrange things in ways that nature might not, but we’re guided by the same principles. And in working to be faithful to how nature does it, we increase our own experience of belonging.