Holding Forth no image

Published on May 3rd, 2014 | by Richard Black


The Big Mulch Machine, Spring Cleanup and the Devastation of Society Some Fifty Years Hence

Now that Spring in the heartland is more or less in full swing and I look into my backyard I’m reminded that winter wasn’t all bad. Instead of battling nature for a few months until the summer heat kicks in and makes life around here more or less intolerable I could really go for another week or so of cold and crappy weather.

This is not to say that I’m a fan of winter, the changing of the seasons or really change in any meaningful manner. When I’m truly in touch with myself, outside of my daily shower, and channel the 90 year old man that makes up the bulk of my emotional well being I find that the best thing about spring is that it means that winter is over.

What this means in reality is that I’m trading seasonal affective disorder and the Holidays for a host of other issues like tornadoes, allergens, ice cream socials and, last but certainly not least, yard work.

In the Midwest working in the backyard is challenging at the best of times. To describe the weather where I live as temperamental is like saying that Charles Manson is a little unbalanced. This past month the temperatures plummeted from a summery 82 degrees one day to a low of 38 in less than twenty four hours and then rocketed back up to the mid 70’s a few days later.

Someone clearly needs to send Mother Nature a strongly worded letter.

Spring in Missouri generally lasts about four days which gives me approximately 96 hours to do whatever needs to be done outside before summer moves in and I can enjoy 110 degree temperatures and 90% humidity.

To make matters worse nature practically explodes during that time which is lovely and all but plants are not discreet about sex. Instead of shuffling off to a seedy motel to procreate like any self respecting form of life trees, grass and mold spew pollen into the air in the hopes that it will find purchase on every car, nasal cavity and occasionally a female of the species.

As a side note I would just like to mention that I tried this approach to procreation in college and was promptly arrested.


I can’t confirm the thought but I’m fairly certain that pharmaceutical companies label this time of the year as the Black Equinox. Similar to Black Friday after Thanksgiving this four day period in Spring provides big Pharma with a bellwether regarding the demand for allergy medication. Black Friday as we all know is the gauge by which pharmaceutical companies gauge the number of prescriptions written for antidepressants before the holiday season and the industry’s success for the next six months of the year.

Like most of my Midwestern brethren I feel compelled to keep up a nice lawn and a few thousand square feet of flower beds.  As a stay at home father who is now charged with keeping the homestead somewhat inhabitable I feel compelled to perform the task well and because I am incredibly cheap I also feel the need to do it all by myself without help

My property isn’t large by any stretch of the imagination but it is surrounded by fifteen or sixteen mature trees that shed their leaves like they’ve been dosed with Agent Orange.  One day every leaf is a vibrant green, the next they’re all on the ground like a pile of clothes at a key party in a cheap motel.

I spent the bulk of the past few weeks cleaning up the yard, patching holes in the lawn and debating when I should put down mulch. The question shouldn’t be that challenging but I ask it every year.  To mulch before planting or mulch after planting? By mulching before I’m essentially saying that I will be blowing money on mulch instead of ground cover and putting off an environmentally acceptable solution to choking out weeds for another year.

By mulching after I plant anything I’m setting myself up for a horrendous amount of work and weeding if I don’t get everything installed.

In reality the the question is moot and not just because I’ve made the exact same decision every year for the past nine years which is to throw the mulch down and deal with the rest later and here’s why. I generously estimate that 90% of anything I’ve ever planted in my beds has withered and died before August. Ever the optimist however I continue planting, researching the conditions of the yard, measuring the amount of water each area gets as well as sun all to no avail.  To say that this is a constant source of irritation for my wife would be greatly understating the issue to say nothing about my own calm and reasoned reaction every time a forty dollar plant gives up the ghost and dies.

At some point I’ll forgo the formality of planting vegetation, pick up a few hundred dollars worth of perennials from the nursery set the poor bastards on fire in my driveway to save time both of us some time but that is another topic for another day.

This year I’ve opted to mulch before watching my new plants die a slow and inevitable death. I use 10 cubic yards of the stuff every year which doesn’t sound like a lot until you have to haul and spread it into a backyard with nothing but a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a rake.

We love our mulch in the Midwest. I’d never seen the stuff before I moved to the nation’s heartland but we throw it on the ground the way hicks put ketchup on sirloin. Ostensibly the purpose of mulch is to keep moisture in the soil and choke out weeds and occasionally it works.

For the most part I think that it speeds up the process of natural selection and allows only the hardiest weeds to survive. Of course Big Mulch doesn’t want us to know this. We’re always either putting down too much of the stuff or too little depending on the woes of our yard.

I’ve created maps and spreadsheets on the proper dispersal of mulch in my yard for over five years now and can honestly say that I’ve found the precise amount of mulch required to foster mold, weeds and fungus to flourish each and every year while killing the maximum number of perennials.

Every time I pry out a Dandelion or the remains of an Azalea from one of my beds I become a bit more convinced that mulch is really just a racket to keep The Big Mulch Machine owners in tits and ass and coke.

Like most inherently unjust and untenable regimes I’m sure that Big Mulch will ultimately fail. I probably wont be alive to see it but system’s demise has already been set in motion.  Trees only grow so fast after all and there’s only so much materiel to serve such a huge demand. Arable land once used for growing soy beans or rutabagas will inevitably be taken over by Big Mulch to plant acre upon countless acre of pine trees.

In less than fifty years the entire northern hemisphere of our world may be forested and entirely devoted to mulch.  As we all know monocultures are doomed to fail and just one little bug, virus or syphilitic twerk from Miley Cyrus will bring the whole system down and the next thing we know we’ll be six feet deep in mulch and nothing but a hemisphere full of sexually diseased trees left to rebuild our economy.

Some four thousand years down the line when the last vestiges of human kind are fighting it out to keep Scientology or Disneyism to reign supreme we will be visited by our alien overlords.  They will shift amongst the massive piles of petrified woodchips, much like the archeologist who discovered the remains of Pompeii in order to learn about this once great culture and I’m fairly certain that they will look upon the forestation of our planet and subsequent mulching as the reason for our demise.

It’s sad really. Inevitable but sad.



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