I will be blogging the first and third Thursdays of each month. To be notified of a new post “like” Little Piece of Desert on Facebook.

In winter I still go out to garden several times a week. 

I straighten the logs around each bed. I cut dry sunflowers and arrange them in a vase. I stack debris for the shredder.  I rake the errant mulch that drifts. I re-secure my hoop house coverings.

 But mostly I water my dirt.

As if my neighbors didn’t think I was eccentric enough for ripping up my lawn and putting in a garden, I add to it by standing there all winter in my cumber green $5 ski swap down jacket watering the dirt.

“If they only knew,” I think, “this is the most productive time of the whole year!”

This quirky watering routine starts right after I make my winter beds.

The first blanket is a rich, velvety black one that smells like fine espresso. These are the coffee grounds given generously to me by Joe at Mimmo’s Espresso in Nob Hill (on Aliso just north of Central). We have a weekly ritual –my husband brings back a clean bucket, Joe gives a full bucket, and I wait excitedly for the bucket to arrive home. It’s the perfect cycle. I help you, you help me, we’re good.

From October through February I spread 2-3 inches of these grounds on each bed.  The next layer is a sturdy down blanket–4-6 inches of discarded leaves collected from neighbors and friends. Left on their own dessicated leaves will just catch flight back to my neighbor’s yards and coffee grounds will be too harsh for the tender spring plants. But layered together and kept wet (and never allowed to dry out all winter*) they begin to rot. Rotting is soil building. Teaming molds, bacteria and worms feast on the leaves and grounds, digesting them and excreting rich life giving humus. As the coffee grounds degrade they release their stores of nitrogen.  

Earlier in fall the smell of the espresso grounds was stiff and pungent but now the beds have only the tender smell of earth. A couple of times a week I part the leaves just to delight at the thousands of worms and roly-polies working furiously –fueled by the finest espresso in town! It’s a frenzied, productive madhouse of activity that is the foundation for everything fine and fancy that blooms in summer.

*To keep the pile wet just shove the hose down to the bottom. I water each bed about 1-2 times a month.

Mimmo’s Espresso (on Aliso just north of Central)!


Watering the espresso grounds right before I add the blanket of leaves


A bed covered for winter. The plastic is an experiment to see if that area rots even faster.


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