It Takes a Village to Raise a Chive

OK, I think my title for this blog is creative and witty, and I did manage to get a laugh out of entomologist Ken Fry when I told him my title. He too understands that what I say is true and has written in his book “Nothing grows in isolation”. You alone, cannot grow a chive, or any plant for that matter. Stop thinking of yourself as the grower! You aren’t. No offence intended, I am simply offering up due to recognition to what really happens in backyard gardens.chives-poisoning

Let me introduce you to the “Villagers” that are truly responsible for growing our food. Without these critters we would have nothing. It is true that we have tried to take over, especially in professional agricultural settings where farmers want to grow as much produce as fast as possible, but I would argue that we have never managed to grow a chive as well as nature grows it herself.

Villager group #1 are the soil microbes. They feed your plants a changing buffet of required minerals depending on what these plants need each day. Your tomato plant puts out her request, and myccorhizal fungus responds, in exchange for sugars of course. This network is called the soil food web. The sun shines and leaves of plants capture this sunlight, converting it (quite magically might I add) into sugars which it uses as energy itself, but also uses as a bargaining chip for minerals. Microbes not only feed your plants naturally, and a well balanced diet to boot, but they also keep your plants healthy, strong, more productive (if they are an edible variety) and generally pest free.

Villager group #2 are the Decomposers. Yes, microbes also decompose, but here I am talking about the macro decomposers. The ones that don’t require a microscope to see, but instead can be seen with your own eyes. These decomposers break larger parts (think dead trees for example) down into bite size pieces for the microbes. Worms are part of this group, as are sow bugs, wood boring types of beetles and spring tales. If it weren’t for this crew, we’d be wading in organic material and waiting much longer for the microbes to be able to process all of this natural waste. Thanks to these larger decomposers, organic material becomes accessible to microbes, who then feed the extracted minerals to plants.

Villager group #3 are the Predator bugs. Predators are the carnivorous variety of insects who like to munch on what are often referred to as garden “pests”. Ground beetles, for example eat slugs. An event I got to watch last summer in my own garden. I filmed this event which was part horror flick, part amazing earth video. Ladybugs, RKWKRKUKGKTK9Q1KIKZSPQZS5KTKWQHSNQLSVQ30BQHS9QF04KHSXKBKNQ1KIKF01QY0NQZS1QT0being the poster child for the organic gardening movement, love to dine on aphids. When you see this charming critter in your garden it can be an obvious sign that something is going right! Robber flies, my new favourite bug, will eat almost anything that is smaller than itself, and sometimes will even dine on insects slightly larger than itself. It is so well designed to eat others that it comes with a beard or moustache-type facial hair called a “mystax”. This mystax keep long prey legs from scratching at its face while being carried away. I find this feature to be so hilarious that I had to feature the Robber Fly in the photo above. Its colouring reminds us of bees and wasps, but this is a trick to scare away other predators. The Robber Fly is actually harmless to anything bigger than itself, and is well loved by natural gardeners!

Villager group #4 are the Pollinators. The best known pollinators must be the bumble bees. Not only are they one of the cutest garden critters; furry and gentle-natured, but

IMG_0772they also pollinate about a third of the world’s food crops, meaning they are essential for feeding this world! Pollination means we get fruit, but it also means we get seeds and therefore plants continue to grow into the future. Aside from bumble bees, other pollinators include honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and all sorts of flies and so on. Anything that buzzes past flowers or crawls inside of them for a taste of nectar and pollen is a pollinator, and we need these guys, as do the plants.

Fun fact: did you know that nectar is the carbohydrate source while pollen is the protein source for a pollinator? Both are necessary for their survival, so consider eliminating sterile plants from your garden-scape. Plants that are hybridized are often sterile, since they are developed for their double blooms or amazing colours, and not for their pollen or nectar amounts. Keep this in mind when designing your yard or when selecting plants for your patio. Pollinators need pollen!

Instead of bragging about what amazing chives you grow next summer, consider sending out a quiet thank you to those who are actually responsible for growing this tasty early spring veggie/flower combination; the “villagers”. These villagers include soil microbes, decomposers, predator as well as the pollinator group of insects. It truly takes a village to raise a chive!


7 Ways to Kill Soil Microbes: and why this is a bad idea….

I was shocked to see that for the second time in as many years I had cause my vermiculture worms some major trauma. This, after having the worms for 8 years previously without any drama. The problem? I was starting to come up with my own ideas, I was starting to experiment. Now, perhaps this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to you, but the torment I caused my worms was such that on round 2, I managed to almost entirely sterilize (kill off all life in) their bins. I eagerly peered into my bins one day to find only just a couple of worms remained, even though only a few days previous there seemed to be tremendous and healthy populations.img_0089

As I had done the year before when I added too many coffee grounds and the worms started escaping (they can “run” pretty quick when they want to!) I removed all of the contaminated material and started the bins anew with the few remaining worms. This time, it wasn’t a garbage bag full of coffee grounds, instead I had added the leftover potting mix from my client’s summer petunia display.

Worms need both “bedding” materials, plus food, plus moisture to thrive. Bedding equals peat moss, or corrugated cardboard, shredded newspapers or dry brown leaves from your yard. I cringed at the thought of discarding the remaining potting mix as my client had asked, so instead I brought it home and started adding it in bucketloads to all of my worms bins, which equaled about 10 at the time. Note to self: it is OK to experiment, but try to keep these tests to a small area, perhaps to just 1 bin rather than all of them at once.

Sadly, there was no going back by the time I saw the damage caused, so I opted to remove all contaminated parts and started fresh. The reason for this disaster? Petunias that come from a garden centre are certainly sprayed with chemicals. In fact, I have never heard of “organic” annuals coming from a garden centre. It makes sense that they have to keep their plants in top shape otherwise their entire profit could be lost for the year due to a pest or fungus problem, so I am certainly not pointing fingers. As such, the potting mix was surely contaminated by pesticides (likely insecticides and fungicides to be more specific). I had underestimated the power of pesticides, and had thought that they would have broken down over the course of the summer, or that the worms would be somehow immune to their effects, but I was wrong.

Worms were not the only critters that got murdered that day. Worm bins are an entire ecosystem in and of themselves, which means there is a whole food chain involved that usually includes teeny tiny spring tales and various invisible microbes. The chemicals would have killed the rest of this system as well.

The good news? Within about 18 months I had 3 bins with viable worm populations. Not 10 bins that were stuffed full as before, but 3 with growing populations. The system can recover, ecosystems can return to health, and it was a thrill to witness that life always finds a way. The sight of the worms made me certain the microbes had also returned, as worms do not work alone, in fact they require the help of microbes to convert food scraps into organic and mineral-rich fertilizers.

So that is the first of the 7 ways to kill microbes, chemicals. We now know how valuable microbes are to ecosystems including gardens, so it is surely in our best interest to keep microbes alive. When they are present, our gardens suffer less disease, grow stronger, produce more fruit (and tastier fruit at that!) and attract more of the beneficial critters responsible for a healthy ecosystem. By knowing how to kill microbes, we will also be learning how to keep microbes alive. So here are 7 ways you can kill microbes:

  1. Chemicals, as explained above.
  2. Salt. Now why would I be adding salt to a garden? Maybe it is a deliberate addition? I was once told by a well-intentioned relative that the best was to kill dandelions is to dig them out then to pour salt down the hole. Turns out this is effective dandelion control, but the salt also kills the rest of what existed there; grass, worms and those very beneficial microbes. Maybe the addition of salt to your garden however, is more inadvertent. Perhaps you use a mix of salt and sand to deal with icy patches on your sidewalks in the winter. Then you shovel this salty snow mix onto your garden beds as the winter progresses in order to clear your walkways. Brown patchy grass and dead perennials in spring will indicate intolerance to this practice and may make you rethink your winter deicing regime.
  3. Vinegar. This is another weed killer. If you buy a horticultural grade vinegar (7-20% vinegar) and spray this on young weeds in the spring, they will die back, at least temporarily. The problem is the same as above however; vinegar kills indiscriminately, so it will kill other plants if accidentally sprayed, as well as the critters of the soil, including microbes.
  4. Chlorine. Chlorine is added to swimming pools and to our drinking water for the same reason; it kills microbes! The water that comes out of our hoses in the summer is full of chlorine, just take a sniff. So, if you use this type of water for irrigating, expect the microbe populations to suffer.
  5. Dehydration. In a not-so-obvious, but simple way, dehydration kills microbes. You want to preserve those summer berries? Dehydrate them and they will not rot. Soil microbes are no different. While very wet conditions cause anaerobic conditions (smelly and not-so-good bacteria and nematodes to thrive), drought also kills. This is one more reason to use a mulch in summer. Natural mulches prevent top soil from drying right out, also preserving those beneficial bacteria!
  6. Tilling. The no-till garden has gained in popularity over the past decade or so and with good reason. Myccorhizal fungus is an invisible-to-the-human-eye web in the soil that literally feeds your plants the nutrition they need in exchange for the sugars that plants can produce through photosynthesis of the sun. It’s a pretty great mutually beneficial relationship. Plants that have abundant amounts of myccorhizal fungus are less susceptible to diseases, pest problems and also grow stronger, since they are being well fed. Parent trees can share nutrition with baby saplings using this web as well, in a way nurturing them just as any other living being does its young. When we till the soil, we break up this invisible web, meaning our plants are left with fewer body guards. Only dig when it is necessary (ie- to harvest your potatoes or to plant a seedling. Otherwise, simply top dress your garden with all of the goodies including worm castings, and the microbes will travel to where they want to be in the soil food web.
  7. Starving. Last but not least you can starve a microbe, or billions at once as they tend to travel in packs of billions! Are microbes starting to sound like they have similar needs to those of all other sentient beings? Hmm, this is no coincidence. Microbes, like anyone else need carbohydrates. Naturally they’d get them from plants (photosynthesis produces sugars) to keep them going. If you have a bare patch of soil with no plants, then there will be no food. You can artificially add carbs to their habitat through sprinkling the ground with finely milled flour for example, or by mixing molasses into water and applying this. Or you can simply allow plants to grow as they will feed the system naturally. Does this help explain why bare ground doesn’t stay bare for long? Weeds are usually the first to come in, helping to amend the soil… but that’s another story!

The intention of this blog is to encourage people to look after soil microbes rather than kill them (as we often do accidentally). Life in the soil, aka microbes, are responsible for raising up our plants, flowers and vegetable crops. Without microbes our plants have access to fewer minerals, are more scraggly, produce less fruit (that will also not taste as good) and will attract more pests. Avoid murdering your soil/microbes, instead provide a safe and hospitable environment for these microscopic friends by providing food, water and shelter for these tiny yet impressively hard working critters!

Gardening Naturally

The 10 Commandments of Natural Gardening

  1. Thou shalt not harm any bugs, even if they seem to be causing trouble. There is funny bug 2a bigger picture, which is hard for us to understand, but the greater your garden’s diversity (both in plant material and critters) the better. Bugs will look after themselves, so you don’t have to. Pesticides often result in killing the predator bugs while the prey (the true pests) can easily become immune. This, of course, only makes your pest problems worse. Aphids that may be eating BUG APHIDyour cherry tree leaves will also provide a source of food for beneficial bugs including ladybird beetles and hover flies. So resist the temptation to “do” anything and let the bugs take care of the bugs.
  2. Thou shalt not use human-made products on your garden, for humans know not what a garden needs. Many fertilizers, whether organic or non-organic will not consist of the right ingredients for your plants in your exact soil conditions. With best intentions, you may add too much magnesium accidentally causing tight soils. Organic or not, the result will be the same. Instead of adding human-made fertilizers, provide the building blocks (natural mulches for example) and let the microbes be in charge of meal planning.
  3. Thou shalt never, ever, ever use landscape fabric. There is never a time and/or a place for landscape fabric unless you are keen on future headaches and stress. If there is one thing I have learned about gardening naturally over the years, it is this: landscape fabric is a marketer’s/salesperson’s dream, and as such, a gardner’s nightmare. This black fabric sold in rolls at garden centres will keep you endlessly coming back for more once the addiction starts. It appears to provide a barrier that weeds can’t get through, but in reality weeds easily surpass this black, synthetic fabric with roots often growing right through it. This whole mess means a whole lot more work for you to now remove both fabric and weeds. This giant load will now need to go to the landfill. Resist temptation and use biodegradable mulches instead; grass clipping, leaves, wood chips to help suppress weeds and leave the fabric at the store.
  4. Thou shalt not use rocks as a “mulch” or as a decorative feature in your garden. Rocks are usually added on top of landscape fabric (See point # 3) for decorative purposes. Rocks on top of all of this makes your job that much harder. Have you ever tried to dig into rocks in order to remove the root of a weed? This task is nearly impossible, meaning you may be tempted to spray the weeds growing between the rocks and we don’t need any extra temptation in this department. Keep gravel/rocks out of your garden. The result? Removing weeds manually will be a million times easier.
  5. Thou shalt not cut back perennials in the fall. By doing so you will be eliminating natural overwintering sites for beneficial predator bugs. These predators will be absolutely necessary come next summer when nasty pests such as leaf miners, slugs and cabbage butterflies want to eat your food crops, sometimes from the inside out! Hoverflies, lacewings and robber flies (complete with charming moustaches actually called “mystax” that are responsible for keeping the legs of their prey from scratching at their faces) rely on spongy hollow perennial tube-like structures for overwintering and laying their eggs. Your over winter perennial collection is perfect for just this purpose!
  6. Thou shalt not remove fallen leaves from garden beds. These leaves are also valuable overwintering sites for predators such as lady bird beetles (the poster child for a healthy organic garden) who help keep aphid populations at bay. These leaves also protect soil from drying out, keep weeds down naturally and feed the ever-so-beneficial spring tales, bacteria and fungus that are truly responsible for keeping any system in check.
  7. Thou shalt not grow hybridized plants. Hybridized plants are often bred to thumbnail_Bee Flowerhave no pollen (no protein source for pollinators) and sometimes the “double blooms” of these hybrids makes it impossible for bees to drink the nectar as there are too many petals in the way. If your garden isn’t able to attract a crowd of pollinators, then you will not get any of the fruit, literally, of your labours. Native plant species provide the perfect food source for native bees; imported plants (ie- weeds in many cases) provide the perfect source of food for imported species. In turn these imported species pollinate the crops we don’t want to thrive, meaning weeds will only become more pervasive in the future.
  8. Thou shalt liberally apply compost and worm castings annually. Both of these “products” are natural and are made by microbes and worms themselves, not humans. These natural critters know exactly what your garden needs. Some of these benefits I refer to as “The 3 M’s”, as they add natural microbes to the soil (just as microbes in your gut are important, so are microbes in the “gut” of the garden; i.e. the soil). They add minerals in well-balanced ratios back to your garden, available if your plants need them, but not forced unnaturally upon them. They also help retain moisture. Being so loaded with humus (decomposed organic matter) this sponge-like matter really keeps the moisture in!WIGGLY WORM
  9. Thou shalt not add in “decorative” edges to your garden. Another item that is destined for the landfill is garden edging; often made of plastic, but sometimes made of metal, stone or wood. It does not matter the material used, it will cause headaches. The grass roots are adept at finding a way around this structure and through any available cracks, which will cause endless headaches for weeding. Instead, buy a $20 garden edger. This hand tool will be used every spring to clean up the grassy edges, then retired until the following year, making your overall workload in the garden much less.
  10. Thou shalt not till the soil. Tilling the soil breaks up the invisible web ofVEG CARROTS mycorrhizal fungi that lives within. This fungal web is what feeds your plants naturally by making a deal with the roots of plants. Imagine this conversation:
    “Hey Carrot”
    “Yo, what’s up Myke?”
    “Give me some of that sugar you collect… you know from the sunshine?”
    “Well do you got some phosphorus in exchange for this sugar, it’s not easy photosynthesizing these days with all the cloud cover.”
    “Yeah sure, I’ll give you the phosphorus in exchange for the carbs, screw that low carb diet!” Plants need this fungus, and the fungus needs the plants. Tilling destroys this beneficial relationship. Tilling also destroys old rodent burrows which native bee species can use as nesting sites. If you want your garden to thrive, you will certainly want these precious pollinators to choose your garden, so leave the soil in tact, as is.

The good news about all of this? It generally means less work for you, the “gardener” and more work and food for all of the critters that will truly make your garden thrive. Stop meddling, and instead sit back on your patio and enjoy what nature has to offer!

Chelsie’s new book the “Three Year Gardener’s Gratitude Journal” co-authored with Donna Balzer is now available for pre-order at donnabalzer.com.thumbnail_Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 1.02.28 PM


Garden. Gratitude. Journal.

I grew the coolest purple peas a few years ago. The reason I loved them? They were purple, so I could actually find them come harvest time! This might seem like a silly reason to love a vegetable, but I do find that green peas camouflage so well with the vine harvest becomes a challenge and I end up missing many of them. Do I remember where I thumbnail_Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 1.02.28 PMgot the seed though, or what the name of this marvellous purple pea was? Nope. I wasn’t journalling about my garden at that time, so although this amazing produce sticks with me as a fond memory, I cannot recreate it this summer.

The Three Year Gardener’s Gratitude Journal is here to the rescue! This journal is full of fun and educational stories (organic growing advice as always!) but there is also plenty of room for you to write your own story, your own journal about your garden. What did well? When did you seed your first tomatoes this year? What price did you pay for those seeds, and did that seem a bit pricey, or super reasonable? With these hand written notes you can start to learn what works best for you. Record your hits and misses, but also thumbnail_Sunflower1benefit from timely monthly tidbits and encouraging stories.

“This book is perfect for all gardeners- there is great information provided, it’s a beautiful layout, and an all-around cheerful and enjoyable journal.” Says Coleen from the Winnipeg Free Press.

And did I mention it was an all-Canadian collaborative process? Designed in BC, written in BC and Alberta, Published in Manitoba and artistry from Nova Scotia. Coast to Coast Canadian, and mother-daughter team work.

What are you grateful for? Start tracking your progress today!


Co-authors of this journal are mom-daughter team; hoticulturist Donna Balzer and professional gardener Chelsie Anderson


Conifer Conundrum

“What’s the coolest tree that grows in Alberta mom?” asked my 11 year old the other day. His school project involved writing a diary from the perspective of a local tree including details about how it came to grow where it is, a bit about its life and who might use it or abuse it.4042669285_c1681080ba_o

“A larch, because it’s a conifer that looses its needles!” I thought I had nailed it. This is for sure the coolest tree I’m aware of. It looks like an evergreen, feels like an evergreen, grows in forests with evergreens, but it is decidedly deciduous as it sheds its leaves come fall. Which makes for glorious hiking scenery in the mountains in the fall as the yellow larch trees contrast so stunningly with their dark green pine and spruce counterparts.

He seemed to be looking for a racier story line though, as he ended up going with the pine because it benefits from forest fires which helps its cones open and clears the forest so that the pine can grow up in sunshine, not shade, as is required for a pine sapling. Have you ever noticed that pine trees are the first ones on site after a fire? Within 10 years or more spruce then start to appear on scene as well, growing in the shade of the pine trees only to outgrow them and effectively kill them with their shade as the years LodgepolePineCampLollJuly06_046pass.

Or maybe you are like I was a few years ago, and didn’t know one green tree from another. Here are some tips for identifying what’s what among the queens of green!

Spruce trees have Sharp, Stiff and “Square” needles. When you try to roll a spruce needle between your fingers it does so with ease due to this shape. Its sharp and stiff needles though mean planting one can become an extreme sport. Gloves and full protective body gear required!
Firs, on the other hand, are flexible, friendly and have “flat” needles. They are easy to handle with bare hands and their needles can not be rolled between your fingers due to the fact that they are 2 dimensional (flat firs).
Pines are much fluffier looking than either of these other 2 trees. Their long needles come from their branches in clusters of 2, 3 or 5 needles, and their cones are hard as a rocks. Ever wonder why pine nuts are so pricey? Because pine cones are nearly impossible to break into!

IMG_2103These are just 3 of the evergreen trees that grow locally, and within each category there are several varieties. Black, blue and white spruce for example. Lodgepole, Mugo and Scotch pines. But at least now you know a bit more about local native species and can start challenging yourself with tree ID while you are out and about in nature or the city streets.

With “Forest Bathing” being a Dr. prescribed practice these days for its numerous benefits including decreased stress, and heart rate, increased memory, energy and focus, and general feelings of well being and strength, it will benefit you to walk a little closer to trees. Feel their needles (to help with ID) and smell their unique scents which are generally uplifting and calming.

While my 11 year old and I may not agree on what makes a tree “cool”, I encourage you to make up your own mind and look for intricacies that amaze you. And go for a hike in the fall looking for those larch gems while bathing in the forest freshness!


Food for Thought

A dead patch of grass that seemed to “spill” down the hill from my neighbourhood’s parking lot tweaked my interest last spring. I light heartedly laughed about this with my IMG_2748kids as we walked home from school, it was a visible sign that salt kills soil, and as a result plants die too. The parking lot was likely treated with some form of de-icer last winter, then the snow was shovelled down the hill, causing this visible death-to-ecosystem. I could finally show my kids just how damaging road salting practices can be to the environment. Being a Calgary native I understand the importance of de-icing here, so I don’t discourage this practice as it is entirely necessary when thinking of road safety, but the effects might be worth mentioning to home owners so that alternate actions can be considered on a private level.

I am a gardener who focuses on soil health. Soil is what makes a plant grow better or worse. I focus on how to boost soils, how to keep soils strong and alive and how to treat soils like you would your own family members. Ultimately, soils are what support human health and life, without soil we could not live.

Here I’ll make a quick distinction between soil and dirt. Dirt is dead, and does not produce food. It is what gets stuck under your finger nails, what grows a great crop of weeds and what erodes at the first hint of wind or water. Dirt is not resilient and will not support human, or other, life. Soil, on the other hand, is full of healthy microbes that produce beautiful humus (not humous that you have on crackers, but humus that you find in great gardens). Humus holds the soil together, retains moisture, supports plants and their roots well and produces nutritious and mineral-rich foods that will truly “feed” people. Growing food in mineralized soils means we may not need to purchase vitamins, as our foods will be satisfyingly rich in minerals, naturally.

So, back to our conundrum about deicing. According to my internet-based research chloride-based de-icing practices result in outcomes on plants similar to those of a drought; “Stunted growth, brown and falling leaves/needles, dying limbs and premature plant deaths.” De-icers can raise the soil pH and soil pH in Calgary is already notoriously very high. High pH means that plants will not be able to absorb minerals, meaning plants will die. A neutral pH is key.

IMG_2920The City of Calgary is aware of this effect, and as such uses mostly fine gravel when this is sufficient; 97% gravel, 3% salt mixture, but the city does resort to using chloride de-icers when snow is predicted; applying 30,000-40,000 tonnes of road salts annually.


If you clear your own sidewalks during the winter months, I encourage you to consider how this relates to your garden. If you can get out there early and pile the snow onto your lawn or garden beds, your garden will love you! It will benefit from this natural moisture. Furthermore, if the snow is removed quickly from your sidewalks, there may be no reason to use salt products to de-ice your pathways at all. This means your soil will continue to live, thrive and to produce plants that could feed you and your family better than any food that is otherwise available.

Food for thought!

Gardening Naturally

Goodnight Garden

This time of year I am putting my garden to sleep. What does this mean? I am finishing up the harvest; things like kale, chard and parsley are still producing well. I am also digging out some of the root crops I didn’t get to earlier; potatoes, carrots and beets. As I do all of this, I leave their tops, or non edible stems and so on, on the soil surface. I have a chopping board and large kitchen knife set up next to the garden for my 10 year old to use to chop these bits smaller. The smaller pieces makes it easier for my garden to “digest” all of this food. The real reason for the knife and board though is for entertainment purposes for my 10 year old! He loves chopping away at the veggie scraps, and I love his company in the crisp outdoor air at this time of year.

Once everything is harvested and chopped, but left in place, I add whatever home made compost I have from my bins this year on top. If you do not make your own compost, or you feel like you do not have enough of your own, I suggest you purchase some compost in bulk. This means from an unpackaged source. Burnco or Sunnyside both have bulk products that you can put into Tupperware bins to bring home if you don’t have a truck. If it is unpackaged, it means it is likely “alive”. It contains the microbes necessary to boost your naturally healthy garden.

If you are keen for a crop of garlic next summer, plant that now. Just before it freezes over is the best time. Simply break the bulb into cloves, leaving the papery cover on, plant the individual cloves just below the soil surface, with maybe even their little pointy heads sticking out the tiniest amount.

Final prep work? I cover my plot (garlic and all) with leaves. This is my #1 preference for mulch. Leaves are often considered a “waste” product, but their potential to boost your garden makes them gold to me! If you have a lawn mower, you can even run the mower over your leaves first to chop them, as this, again, makes them more accessible for the microbes while they work to break these down, feeding your soil.