Daily Archives: March 28, 2011

Spinning Trash Into Mulch

Now comes the time for dragging dormant tropical plants into the warmth of Spring for those couple of weeks before Nature’s cook turns the oven up high for summer. You could feel it over the weekend, when the old mercury topped 85 degrees and the rain still refused to fall and you wondered again whether we’re all careening toward the sun in an overcorrection from big earthquakes on the other side of the planet.

I still have a raised bed to till in the far back garden, and a couple of rows of beans (and maybe some hot chilies, and for sure a temporary fig cutting home). I still have more than 100 plumeria that really ought to be potted into bigger containers. And a side garden to restore. Dead vines and at least one frozen-out giant shrub to remove.

But there’s always time for ginger straw, and so it was this weekend.Ginger straw in action

We wouldn’t have to make ginger straw at all but for the idea some former resident of our abode had, that shell ginger, a.k.a. Alpinia zerumbet, would make a bold semi-tropical statement growing along the side of the house, and along the back fence, and in the back corner. Well, at first Alpinia zerumbet does make a bold and attractive statement. Then the ginger colony grows and multiplies and grows. Then after about four years and one colder-than-average winter, you wind up with a giant mess of brown, fibrous stalks that resist a wide range of cutting implements, from hoe to machete to scissors. The roots from which this new ginger army grows become hard and wide and deep and immovable. They plot a vegetative insurrection.

Soon, you have no choice but to attack. This year we chose the method wherein I string a few hundred yards of extension cord out into the yard, plug in an electric hedge clippers and stand at the ready while my wife lifts huge armfuls of dead, brown, fibrous stalk so that they are taut and, thus, vulnerable to the clipper blades.

After this operation is repeated for a very long time, you find yourself with two or three large piles of stringy stalks. You can a.) Stuff them into six or seven trash cans and drag them out front for the garbage guys to take or b.) Stuff them load by load into the tractor wagon and ride ‘em down to the river bank to decompose but look trashy for a few months first or c.) leave them piled up against the back fence, where they will become a useful cooling stopover for copperheads and other assorted snakes.

Or you can get out your little tractor mower and run them over, gradually and with patience because otherwise, if you forget to be patient as I accidentally did yesterday, you run over more stalk than the mower blades can pulverize all at once, and so the ginger fibers wrap around the blade axles just like so much rope. So you slice up the offending mess with a pocket knife, free your blades and move on. Yet more patiently.

Final result: Big, puffy piles of ginger straw – an aromatic substance resembling some sort of packing material and which serves admirably as garden mulch. Smells good, naturally damp, holds together and doesn’t blow away even in strong wind. And, although absent scientific knowledge to serve as proof, observation indicates that at least some insect pests are put off by either the aroma or some substance within the shredded plant material, and steer clear of it.

Hot as it’s already getting, the ginger straw mulch comes in handy. But it isn’t handy to make it. And if you live in a warm climate like ours and are looking to make a bold plant statement, may I suggest for the sake of your sanity and your back, take a pass on the shell ginger. The people who live in your house in future decades would thank you for it, except how would they know you almost planted some but changed your mind? Well, they wouldn’t.