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.