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Well Read Garden

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The newscasts seem full of stories about the death of newsprint, and newsprint's replacement by technology.  There seems to be fewer and fewer of us who carry the genes of string-savers of the Great Depression- those who love the way the paper feels between our fingers, and the way the pages sound as we turn them.  There's a steady flow of the electronic version of the town crier- folks on little screens who type, text, or shout, gossip, advertising, facts, figures, and advertisements, even when we don't want them.

I still like to write on paper, with a pencil no less, and reading the newspaper on print that leaves ink on my fingers and smudges on my minds of crosswords, news items, sports scores, comics, and bargains from the classifieds.  I am sure that many of us are ardent re-users taking plastic, cans, bottles, and paper to the recycle center.  You can count me in those ranks, but I keep my newspapers.  I save them to turn my gardens, flower beds, and any other planted areas into library extensions.  I use the pages as the basis for mulch, which cuts down on the amount of watering and weeding I do throughout the growing seasons.

The bulk of my mulch material comes from the Gray Lady herself- the Sunday New York Times.  It numbers in the hundreds of pages and takes a week to read the national and international news, opinions and editorials, styles and leisure trends, travel, book reviews, sports stories, art reviews, and financial market reports.  I admit that sometimes on a spring or summer day, I find myself reading between the rows when I get caught up in a story that I missed or I want to revisit as I layer it down between the beets and the green beans.

Over the gardening years, I've improved my mulching methods, learning at the school of hard knocks that a thick mat of newspapers is harder to get rid of during fall or spring cleanup.  Two sheets of newspaper is all that's needed to act as a weed barrier, and they will most likely compost down into soil additives after the growing season.  Because I live in the wind tunnel of the world, I always cover the papers with wood chips or wheat straw to hold them in place.  I never use the slick colored sections or ad supplements because of the various colored inks and dyes that I don't really want leaching into my garden soil.

I'm afraid gardeners of the future may have to find other alternatives for mulching their growing efforts, as the survival of printed paper is doubtful in a high tech world.  But, looking through the glass darkly, we may not have enough water or sustainable soil to keep gardening from also disappearing from the scene.  I'll bet that with the new computerized 3-D reproduction projects that are making headlines today, the techno-geeks of tomorrow will be able to produce a reasonable facsimile of a vine-ripe tomato without ever planting a seed.

Years ago Skip Mancini left the rocky coast of Northern California to return to her roots in the heartland. Her San Francisco friends, concerned over her decision to live in a desolate flatland best known for a Hollywood tornado, were afraid she would wither and die on the vine. With pioneer spirit, Skip planted a garden. She began to learn about growing not only flowers and vegetables, but hearts and minds. If you agree that the prairie is a special place, we think you'll enjoy her weekly sojourns into Growing on the High Plains.