I’ve begun waking the garden beds for spring. That includes raking any leaves that blew in over the winter months and pulling the weeds which sprouted through the mulch. I added two wheelbarrow loads of compost to the vegetable garden, and this year I will not till it in. I will disturb only as much of the soil as needed to insert tomato plants and bean seeds. In the last two seasons as I have removed tree stumps and roots from the garden the soil has been well-turned. That stirring action aerates but also dredges up weed seeds.

As I knelt along the paths I had to take care not to put my knees or my hands down on one of these monstrosities. In the small space between our houses my neighbor has two mature and prolific sweet gum trees which bombard the landscape with these land mines. If you’ve stepped on a fresh gum ball while barefooted or mounted one under your fingernail via the sharp points you probably are in the club that despises sweet gum trees.

Are sweet gum balls worthless or do they have a contribution to make in the garden?

Like pine cones sweet gum balls take years to decompose, and I prefer not to add them to my compost pile. A future ouch waits when I spread fresh compost in the flower garden and a prickly gum ball hides in the load to snare me. As I filter pine cones and sticks out of my composting raw materials I also remove as many gum balls as I can find. The discards are recycled through the city’s yard waste pickup service as I do not have space for a multi-year compost pile.

One expert speculated that squirrels eat gum balls, but I have not observed that behavior in my gardens. Squirrels will park high in the pine trees gnawing on green pine cones, but I have yet to find a half-gnawed gum ball. Perhaps with tastier items on their plates squirrels choose gum balls as a last resort.

I read that dry (brown not green) gum balls make great kindling for starting fires. I tried it and found that the points of the gum balls burn brightly for a couple of seconds before fizzling as shown in the video. I prefer dried pine cones for this application as the flames persist. Empty toilet paper rolls loosely stuffed with dryer lint work well as fire-starters also.

Sweet gum ball as kindling? No!
Pine cone as kindling! Yes!

Rabbits hate sweet gum balls and avoid areas littered with the pokey things. I guess their feet are sensitive just like mine. Gum balls can be spread around treasured plants as a sort of force field which might be strong enough to thwart the attack.

Our back gardens are bordered by wooden fences with sections belonging to different properties. Some of those yards include sizeable weedy natural areas which offer scads of rabbit habitat. We’ve added raised beds, wire fencing, and raised beds with wire fencing, but the rabbit hoards continue to munch. Last summer I watched for escape paths as the rabbits bolted from my gardens into their breeding grounds and plugged as many spots under the fences as I could find. This season I am laying a minefield of gum balls along the fences to see if the rabbits can be persuaded to boycott my all-you-can-eat Gourmet Salad Bar. Time will tell.

My friend, Kurt Bubna, pastor of Eastpoint Church in Spokane Valley, Washington tackled in his blog post the topic of finding value in things we might otherwise discard. You can read the entire post here: Finding Value in the Rubbish. Kurt writes, “God delights in choosing rejects, and rubble, and rubbish. God values us because of who we are, not what we do.”

Ever wonder about your worth or value in God’s eyes? Here’s how God sees us, “Precious. Irreplaceable. Valued. Priceless. Loved beyond measure…”

Though we live in a time where our value is questioned should we hold an opinion out of vogue with the majority we can take comfort in this truth: you and I are well-loved by the Master Gardener. We are worth much, and not just in the garden.