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True labour of love by gardeners...

Following on from last month's article on organic and biodynamic gardening, a few days ago I had the great pleasure of visiting a garden in Saar that used only recycled material obtained from it to create compost.

The compost is then worked into the soil or applied as mulch to the surface.

The garden owner advised me that he is able to produce compost over a period of approximately six weeks - quite a feat considering it usually takes from two to three months.

In biodynamic composting Preparations (502 to 507) are added which assist in what are known as the dynamic cycles of macro and micronutrients and which, through biological processes, result in the breakdown of organic matter.

In the Saar garden though, these processes are achieved through the activities of the earthworm or rather the red earthworm.

This was the first occasion that I had seen earthworms in Bahrain or in any part of the Middle East, for that matter.

How the earthworms found their way into the garden is not clear, though most likely they were present in the planting mixture of an imported pot plant, which had been planted in the garden, and afterwards had simply multiplied.

The benefit of these little creatures to the garden has been extraordinary.

Handling the compost rich, friable soil reminded me of a visit to a nursery at the foot of Mount Etna in Sicily, when, plunging my hand into a shrub bed I felt a strong connection with the living soil.

In that instance, the richness of the soil was due to the periodic eruptions of the volcano dusting the land with mineral rich ash, which is broken down by soil organisms, making the use of synthetic chemicals in planting mixtures unnecessary.

The visit required staying the night in an old stone-built farmhouse that had been converted by the nurseryman into a charming guest house.

I mention this only because the meals I ate there were exceptional - the vegetables and salads were organically grown.

Consequently, the flavour of each was most pronounced and a delight to the taste buds, reminding me of the taste of salads and vegetables I used to grow on an allotment in my younger days.

An important aspect of the meals was the love the kitchen staff put into preparing the meals - a love which permeated the food and which I found equally as nourishing as the food itself!

I mention love, for this was the feeling I experienced in the Saar garden in question.

Both husband and wife are in love with gardening and the garden seemed to reflect their love.

Not only that, but the whole domestic scene seemed permeated with love, and I received a strong impression that Nature was responding to their love and the result was a happy family - an excellent model for living.

Returning to earthworms and composting - all leaf litter is collected and put onto the compost heap.

This includes organic kitchen waste and twigs, which are cut into small pieces.

Nothing that can be used for composting is removed from the garden. The heap is moistened and turned once a week, the outer layers being turned into the centre.

Worms then become exposed to the light quickly and evade it by burrowing deep into the heap and digest the matter which had previously formed the outer layers.

When the compost is ready, or when the organic matter is decomposed through the action of the earthworms and other organisms, it is then forked or dug into the ground in preparation for planting operations.

Another option is for it to be applied as a mulch to planting areas, where worms continue their activity by pulling the compost down to lower levels, thereby increasing the depth of the soil's fertility.

Taking a handful of compost, my nostrils were assailed by a wholesome, earthy odour that I hadn't experienced for many years.

Plants which seem to especially benefit from the compost are tomatoes, several varieties of which have been planted out ranging from the small cherry form to the large beefsteak type.

Judging from photographs of previous crops, the quality and yield this year will be as good as last year.

Other plants include herbs, such as basil, as well as seasonal flowers that include cosmos, dianthus, pinks, caledula and zonal geraniums among others.

The garden owner was particularly taken with a specimen of cosmos on account of it having survived the fierce heat of last summer.

It is a very attractive plant producing papery, daisy-like flowers in yellow, white, maroon, pink and deep pink.

I was taken with an example of heliconia, a native of tropical America, it is commonly known as crab claws like bracts.

Its foliage is similar to canna, banana and the bird-of-paradise plant, for which it is sometimes mistaken.

Other tropical plants in the garden include a magnificent specimen of Ficus benjamina, a forest tree of the fig family, providing shade and protection for scindapsus as well as a philodendron.

It is unusual to see plants normally associated with the deep tropics growing in Bahrain with its extremes of climate. However, this very likely can be ascribed to the protective cover of the tree canopy, the humus rich soil and the loving care exercised by the garden owners.

Meanwhile, there has been much concern expressed in the media about the loss of farmland to development and the consequent loss of date palms.

While this is lamentable and everything should be done to preserve Bahrain's arable land, there is a glimmer of hope in the government's programme of offering to plant a date palm in every garden without one.

This would result in an idyllic setting in which homes and palms would exist in perfect harmony.

Hopefully, the offer will be taken seriously and lead to a keen interest in gardening - organic and biodynamic gardening, re-acquainting Bahrainis with their agricultural heritage and its cosmic dimension, expressed in the Lunar Mansions discussed in last month's article.

With the New Year approaching, I wish all at the GDN and its readers, indeed, the people of Bahrain good health, happiness and prosperity, and all that is good and beautiful. Happy gardening.

Copyright 2009 Gulf Daily News

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Dec 27, 2010
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