When we discovered our septic tank was leaking, it was a bad day for the neighborhood, to say the least. I immediately went out and bought a composting toilet, the result of which is currently still composting. More on that, perhaps, in a different post, though, since this one is about what happened after, to my garden, and lessons therefrom.
We needed to put in a new septic system, and decided on a biovac, which is a self-contained biological system for rural homes. When the crew arrived to install it, they insisted that the only place it could go would take the pipes in a direct line through my circle garden, the first one I had designed and built when we moved here, had cared for and developed for five years. I asked them to please take care of the garden boxes, move them carefully, and they said they would.
It was devastation. When I came back from work the day of the excavation the boxes were toppled all topsy-turvy in a back section of the plot, there was a ragged deep hulking scar of a hole across where the garden had been, clay soil and oozing mud made up the landscape. I cried. When they had finally filled up the trench, finished their work and left a bare mud flat behind, I struggled to find the courage and motivation to build a garden there again. The boxes were useless. Soil was piled in weird places. Where, and how, to start?
I went out to the goat yard and started to pile spent hay, mixed with goat pellets and urine and already decomposing into a blackish mass underneath, into the wheelbarrow. Load after load I dragged across the yard and formed in rows across the muddy clay. I turned the hay over so the black decomposing parts were on top. I had the beginnings of a garden bed; in time it would make better and better soil, but for now, this was all there was.
I decided to plant peas. Peas are nitrogen fixing and would add to the soil nutrients sorely needed. They have shallow roots that would go fairly easily. They would create a yield. So that spring, we planted rows and rows of peas along the decomposing spent hay piled atop the muddy clay soil. They grew. Eventually even small weeds started growing in the hay rows. Pulling them and scattering them around the peas added more green matter to the mix of hay and goat compost.
One day, however, while weeding around a young pea, I managed to pull the pea plant up with a weed stalk. It’s spidery roots hung limply from my hand. I immediately dug a hole in the hay mass and replanted it, patted it down, watered and fed it with liquid bio fertilizer, and watched it anxiously over the next days. To my amazement the pea plant prospered. It was soon long and gangling and I set in stakes and tied it, and the other peas as well, to a network of twine. The pea plant outgrew its frame and reached out to to join to ones across the path. It grew to be one of the strongest and most prolific producers in the new garden.
As I mused over the progress of the pea, I found myself thinking of students I had had, those with shallow roots, from broken homes, or with ill or alcoholic, or even abusive parents. I thought how peas, though shallow rooted, had such an immense propensity to grow, a will to live and thrive. I thought how with the right structure provided, with care to provide a healthy and stimulating environment, even the most shallow rooted, even those who had been metaphorically pulled out by their roots, could grow and prosper. I thought too, how easy it might have been to have simply cast the small pea plant aside when I had first pulled it out; regretted it as a mistake but dismissed it as a casualty, and assumed there was no hope for it. Do we do this with students? Can we do better?