This zinnia has already started to rot. No doubt there are some microorganisms already at work on it. If they are not at work on it, they will be shortly. There isn't much left to do in the garden. We're pushing into late October, and all my transplanting is done. I threw the tomato vines into the compost pile a couple weeks ago. I left the zinnias because here and there they are still showing some nice color, color which is very welcome at this time of the year. It can be difficult for the novice gardener to let go of the summer, to rip out the plants and toss them onto the compost heap, because this signals the onset of what is ultimately winter, and winter, for many people, means death. Death for one thing but life for another. Life for many others, in fact: there are hordes of bacteria who are itching to munch on all your yard waste. They're not as pretty to look at as a flower, but they are just as pretty to think about. Again, I'm not a microbiologist, but I promise you that all those things you find beautiful in this life would not be possible without bacteria. Compost is solace for the gardener at the end of a season. I now relish the end of the season, relish putting my garden to bed, relish tossing all the scraps onto the compost pile because I know that next year's garden will be so much richer for it.
Not to gross you out or anything, but the process of turning yard waste into compost is very much like the process of turning a cucumber into a fermented cucumber pickle or some shredded cabbage into saur kraut. Fermentation is just controlled decomposition. The black tea you drink has been fermented. In China, tea leaves are traditionally fermented in piles. Bacteria colonize those piles and turn them from green to brown, curing the tea leaves and adding flavor in the process. Essentially, black tea is compost, but in the culinary world we swap out the word "compost" for the word "fermented." If the idea of eating something that has been subjected to controlled bacterial decomposition disgusts you, I encourage you to think again about bacteria. You are not possible without them. It is unfortunate that our war on pathogenic bacteria has spilled onto bacteria in general. It is unfortunate because bacteria are vital to our life processes, both inside and outside our bodies. For every cell in our bodies, there are ten single-celled bacteria, which is to say that there are trillions of live bacteria in us right now. Our intimate relationship with them is something that our scientists do not fully understand, but if you believe that we indeed descended from bacteria—and you should believe this—you might stop to think before you purchase that next bottle of antibacterial cream. What are you really trying to kill? Most likely, it's only fear and a lack of knowledge that drive you into the health and beauty section of the grocery store to get that anti-bacterial soap. Fear and the lack of knowledge are the tools they use to sell product.