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Speaking of pine needle mulch . . .

I had to grin when I read Kitty's question about using pine needles  for
mulch. I wrote the following short essay and sent it in to a  gardening
magazine a
number of years ago, for possible publication.  No, it didn't get picked for
publication, but all of you might get a kick out of  this true story from my
younger gardening days!


It was some years ago when I was trying to establish my garden on  an acre of
miserable hardpan soil, and desperate for any kind of organic matter  I could
lay my hands, but where was all this wonderful organic matter to come  from?

I happen to be very fond of pine needles, so I was thrilled when  my neighbor
told me she had a friend with a large stand of pine trees on her  property
who wanted the pine needles raked up. Why, I canbt imagine, but she got  the
done for nothing and I got the pine needles for free. What a windfall!  For 2
whole days I collected endless bags of pine needles, laboriously picking  out
the twigs and branches, and piled them into my van. I figured I'd let them
compost for a season, and have wonderful, rich organic mulch which would not
only loosen up the clay, but would help acidify my extremely alkaline soil. I
piled the pine needles nearly 4 feet deep in a far corner of my property, and
left nature to do her work until the following year, while I dreamed of
mountains of fluffy pine needle compost.

One day I decided it was time  to harvest my brown gold, and took my
pitchfork and wheelbarrow to the compost  site. I thrust the pitchfork deep
into the
pile and started forking it into the  wheelbarrow. Suddenly I felt something
stinging my legs. I looked down and to my  horror discovered some kind of very
aggressive ants crawling all over me! I must  have been a humorous site as I
thrashed about, screeching and swiping wildly at  the biting insects. When I
managed to get them off me, I looked into the gaping  hole in the compost
and the whole pile appeared to be moving! All that  work, all that time, all
those beautiful pine needles had turned into one  gigantic ant hill!

The burning and itching from the ant bites subsided  after several days, but
bll never get over the bstingb of watching all that  beautiful mulch go
waste. (I was not interested in spreading biting ants  around my entire

We have recently moved to another part of the  state, and I am now faced with
starting my gardens all over again. Fortunately,  it turns out I have a
friend right across the road who has a barn full of donkey  manure which she
says I
am welcome to use for my garden. I understand it makes a  great organic soil
amendment after composting for a year or so. .  .

Maddy Mason
Hudson Valley, NY  zone 5/6

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