First up, meet Natalie:
Natalie Ross is obsessed with compost and its role as a nutrient-recycling powerhouse. She lives in Durham, NC, and she studies natural resource management at NC State University. She aims to help people understand and appreciate that they are beautiful part of nature's cycles. Her dreams are to play a role in ending the unnatural and unnecessary chemical horrors that our earth's soils are exposed to and to help in eliminating the needless disposal of organic matter in landfills.
And this is her story:
The backyard looked like a derelict wasteland when I moved into my previous home in February 2010. A short chain-link fence surrounded a large plot of green and brown weeds and grass. A couple of struggling rose bushes sat on either side of the back steps. For all its depressing features, it had one important thing: sun.
Natalie's garden canvas, complete with rose bushes and a fence. Not pictured: sun
On the last day of March my roommates and I, along with a couple of friends, took to the soil with shovels and a pickax. We cleared grass from two large rectangles and planted arugula, lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, and Johnny jump-ups.
A few weeks later we added tomatoes, eggplant, okra, basil, and lots of zinnias. We designated a spot for our first compost pile in a shady place not far from our back door. I built a tomato trellis with dried bamboo and a web of twine, and our garden grew into a lush green mess.
I thought bright yellow sunflowers would look perfect against our black and red house. I had tried to grow sunflowers before, only to find the tops of seedlings nibbled off by hungry squirrels. In a desperate attempt to successfully grow one of my favorite flowers, I cast half of a 17-pound bag of birdseed into a 40-foot long strip of soil that ran along our sidewalk. If that didn’t work, then I didn’t know what would.
-Natalie Ross, Sunflower Queen out of Durham, North Carolina
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