What, You Don’t Have A Bath Tub In Your Garden?

So this is what you do, when you find out that your garden is full of Arsenic: You put a bath tub in the middle of your lawn, and plant it up. My neighbour gave it to me because she is currently having a new one installed, and I asked nicely. I put it under the cherry tree, and planted it with a grape-vine which I am going to train up to the branches of the tree, making use of the natural growing frame. I also put a blueberry bush, some onions and brassicas into it. It’s great because it is naturally free draining through the plug hole.

I’ve been cycling over to a local cemetery, which has a very large composting area around the back. I smile sweetly, and the council-garden-maintenance-guys tell me that they didn’t see me…. So I help myself to leaf mulch and wood chip, and a couple of logs for the fire. I have a trailer on the back of my bike, and I am always surprised at how much it holds, as I get out of the saddle to pedal slowly home under the weight of my bounty. I’m filling my containers with cemetery leaf mulch, commercial compost from the shops, straw mixed with chicken poop, a little wood ash from the fire, and then I mulch the top with wood chip. So far so good.

I came home one day to find a mint green water tank on my door step. (I learned a week later that a friend had seen it on a job and thought of me!) I did my excited little chicken dance, and then planted it up straight away with a fig tree, rhubarb, and a brocoli seedling. This is an experiment in companion plants – I actually have no idea whether they will compete for nutrients or not, but I figured they are in different families and will grow at different heights, so they won’t compete for light (stacking). It’s worth a try I reckon! I also found an Urn which I planted, although it’s not free draining, so I will have to be careful with it when it rains non stop, like it has for the last month. I discovered that the council guys at the recycling center also couldn’t see me when I wanted to take home some more plant tubs, and chairs, and a basket of costume jewelery for my daughter……

I’m concentrating on the things that I can do in my garden. I can grow in containers, in bags and in hanging baskets. I can build a pond. I can plant stuff to encourage wildlife and choose plants that bees like, such as lavender and Wisteria. I can keep chickens, who give me eggs, and weaken the arsenic concentration with their humongous poos.

Soil remediation is a going to be a longer journey. Nobody seems to be able to give me solid advice on using hyperaccumulating fungi to remove arsenic. Ferns (Pteris Vitatta) were my front-runner for a while, even though they like a more tropical environment then rainy Tavistock. They have been used in Bangladesh, where millions of people are effected by arsenic contamination. However, a professor in Aberdeen advised me that even if I did remove some arsenic from the soil, the Arsenic mineral (it was being mined in my area) would continually leach more into my soil, so it would be a never-ending battle. Removing my top-soil and replacing it, is not really an option – I don’t think it deals with the problem properly. It just puts it somewhere else.

I’ve had a meeting with the council- environmental-health-guys, who did see me. I must have worn bright colours that day! I will be working with them and with a professor in Plymouth University, to test any food that comes out of my contaminated soil. Just because the arsenic levels in the soil are high, doesn’t mean that the plants are absorbing it – Certain plants absorb different amounts. A little bit of arsenic never hurt anyone. A little bit more, apparently means you’re from the South West. More than that, and you might die, so it will be good to get some tests done and get a clearer picture of the situation.

Permaculture Principle for the Day: Creatively Use and Respond to Change. Nature doesn’t give up when it is faced with contamination. It changes. It grows, it moves and it aims for a new equilibrium. My garden won’t become what I thought it would when I moved here, but I can be creative.

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About thehouseofjam

I am a Trustee/Director of the Permaculture Association of Britain, and I make jam with wild food. Lots of it!
This entry was posted in Arsenic, chickens, companion plants, Compost, Container gardening, cycling, Earth care, everything gardens, Food, Gardening, Low Impact living, mushrooms, mycoremediation, Organic, Permaculture, philosophy, Produce no waste, Self Sufficiency, soil, Tavistock and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to What, You Don’t Have A Bath Tub In Your Garden?

  1. stickyllama says:

    Hi Again,
    I know Vetiver grass is good for removing contamination – and almost indestructable. Good for mulch production too. If you can get it! The root is used to make vetiver oil which smells divine too! You always write such upbeat, positive things, it is a pleasure to read!

    • Todd says:

      I never know what people have in mind when they use hyper accumulators but here is the step that I see missing from most advice: you have to dispose of the parts that acculate the selected toxin.
      People appear to think that adding organisms that hyper accumulate toxins and then mulching with the biomass is a good idea. False. You need to treat the plant like its minning the soil. If the plant accumulates the metal in the leaves then remove them from you yard. Using the leaves for mulch just brings the material into the food web.
      Arsenic and lead are elements. They are not going away (without some sort of nuclear decay). Elements just move. We brought the junk to the surface and we need to find a better place it put it. If we let it get into the food web then were just speeding it through different trophic layers until it gets to us.
      I feel it’s also worth mentioning that different materials accumulate at different points. Roots have a waxy area called the casparian stripe that filters what makes it into the shoots and leaves. So root crops may be the accumulators where other crops aren’t bothered. My understanding is that there Are three choice with toxins in general:
      1) isolate it from your crop
      2) biologically tie it up into an inert form
      3) remove it

      • Well one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If I could hyper accumulate my arsenic, i could pick off the contaminated mushrooms/ferns and find someone who wants arsenic. If that fails, I could at least dispose of it in a concentrated form in a contamination waste site. That would be better then removing all of my top soil. However it looks like a long complicated journey. I now have a Uni student who will study my garden, test the soil and the various plants that come out of it. Spinach and cabbage won’t be my friends, but apparently fruit trees will. We shall see.

    • 🙂 Thanks! I did have two low days when I found out about the arsenic, but it’s good to pull yourself out of it- negativity isn’t productive, and being productive makes me a positive person, so that’s where I aim to stay. Thanks for your support!

      • Todd says:

        I think your solution with the tub is fantastic. Above ground planting is a great solution. My wife and I have our kitchen garden in similar sized troughs. It’s been perfect for salads, herbs, and small berries.
        I have heard that fruits can be less likely to pickup toxins. It might be worth seeing if berries would be safe from arsenic. If so then you could expand the growing area and try some sort of a food forest using a mid thicket design.

      • I’ve heard that fruit is good too, but I’ve failed to fi d solid evidence. Im really excited to have a masters student at my disposal to test the food that is produced. It will be really good to make an extensive list of foods and what they have absorbed. So for now I shall grow in containers for food and in the ground for research.

  2. Seasonsgirl says:

    I think the bath tub is a great idea… functional and decorative at the same time.

  3. sew4con says:

    I have a bath tub pond! I’m so happy to find another bath tub gardener.

    • Thats super! Do you have any photos to share? Have you seen the compost toilet book? Maybe we could make a book which is a collection of photos of the different and very varied used of bathtubs in gardens! Or i could start with a page on my blog! Have you seen a bush bath before? It’s the best bath I’ve ever had! If you email me a photo, I’ll start something! 🙂

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