As we say in the Permaculture community, the problem IS the solution. The rain has brought with it, a colossal amount of fat juicy slugs. My chickens have been gorging themselves on slimy grossness. Good for them! First thing in the morning, I let them out of their little wooden house, and then I clean out the green house of slimy monsters. They are often so big that I have to cut them in half for my happy girls.
I had a meeting with a professor at Plymouth University, who has a student who wants to study the arsenic in my garden as part of his dissertation. However, he said, this kind of study has been done many times over, in areas much more highly contaminated then my garden. He showed me the previous results, and explained them to me. Even the vegetables which suck up the most amount of arsenic from the soil, are fine to eat. Brassicas and salads are the worst, but they are still within the safe limit. Big sigh of relief?…..not just yet.
So food is fine to grow in my contaminated soil, he said. But I need to be careful not to ingest the soil itself. Leafy greens and cabbages are bad, not because they suck up arsenic, but because they are grown on the surface of the soil, and they are crinkly. It’s almost impossible to wash all the soil off. Foods like fruit from trees, and runner beans and tomatoes, are better simply because there is much less chance that the soil will ever touch the food surface. He said I just need to wash and peel everything thoroughly, and I’m all good. All good? Up until now, I’ve had a philosophy of ingesting as many germs as possible, to keep my immune system in check. If my daughter finds a raisin on the floor in my house, it’s her lucky day. I don’t wash my vegetables unless they are covered in mud! And peeling them feels like an utter waste!
But this was just the beginning. My Professor said that my biggest problem with Arsenic, is going to be via inhaling it, through dust particles in my house. He said I will need to be particularly careful with Matilda, who is only 4, and thus has a longer life span to build up contaminants in her body. But I don’t own a vacuum cleaner, and I only sweep when you can’t see the floor for all the twigs. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but I really don’t care to keep a disinfected show house. I have better things to do with my time. Well…I did. I guess now I will have to be a bit cleaner.
We then started to discuss what tests this student will do on my garden…Cherries, pears, gooseberries, carrots, broccoli….Oh and why don’t we test my chicken’s eggs? Up until now, I had assumed that my 6 ex-battery chickens would be fine, because the vast majority of their diet is stale pasties and waste fruit and veg, from the very kind independent shops in town. I figured a tiny bit of arsenic in the grass would be fine. But actually, they ingest a hell of a lot of soil. That’s what they do. They root around and dig up worms. I feed them slimy slugs, which often have plenty of soil stuck to them. They need to ingest grit, to grind up their food in their stomachs. I eat their eggs every day. So does Matilda.
My research into hyper-accumulation of the Arsenic, has proven to not be a viable option. There was an Arsenic mine on the other side of the road, so there is Arsenic mineral in my soil. If I did attempt to absorb the contaminants using hyper-accumulators such as mushrooms or Pteris Vitata (Chinese Brake Fern), my efforts would be futile. The mineral will continually leach more arsenic into the soil.
SO. Without panicking, I’m going to get my eggs tested. I’m going to get everything tested. And I’m going to try to sweep at least once a week! Maybe the problem wasn’t the solution this time. Or maybe I just had the wrong solution. I’m still in the thinking stage of my design. I still have so much to learn about my garden, before I can make a well-informed permaculture plan of action. It’s only been 5 months.
I remain positive. I can adapt and change. I will figure it out for myself.