Friday, March 25, 2011

Printemps (Spring)

Ah, the spring. We knew it was coming early when we witnessed the Grus (stork-like cranes) making their beautifully coordinated V-shaped migration back to northern Europe late last month. Then the wild daffodils and tulips bloomed in full force a few weeks ago. The weather started hitting the mid-seventies on a regular basis, making working outside a must. What better time to start cleaning up and prepping the old weed-infested kitchen garden so we could begin planting in early April?

So, that was one of the many projects I decided to tackle last week. First, I decided to start with clearing the large pile of ashes adjacent to the old outhouse in the garden. Seemed like a no-brainer. Just shovel the 3-foot pile of ashes into the wheel barrel and take about a dozen trips over to our burning pile (we can burn garden waste on our property). Only problem was, after the top layer of ash had been removed, my shovel hit something much harder and it was not so easy to shovel it anymore. "Ah, this must have been an old compost pile," I think to myself and at first I thought it was just dirt, but upon closer inspection, I knew it was something more than dirt, but could just not pin-point exactly what. It was brown, but not dull, dirt-color brown like the clay soil we had dug up recently for the trees. It was glossy, kind of a slick cocoa brown...wait a minute; if I didn't know any better... I would think it was, "Holy shit! Hank, come here quick!"

Yep, what I had just shoveled into was what I have now learned was called "night soil." Or, more precisely, a combination of human excrement, compost, soil and ashes. How do I know such a thing? It's weird, but I just happened to be reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" at 3am the night before and in it he describes the stories of successful rice farmers who have been using night soil for oh, about a 1000 years (gonna think twice now about not doing the extra rinse of your rice now, aren't you?).  Plus, Colette nonchalantly confirmed that the practice did indeed exist.

It was then that I finally had a major, "ah ha" moment as I flashed back to the prolific tomato plants in the garden last September and current sprawling strawberry patch. And then remembered how we always used to joke about how healthy the plants all looked near the septic tank in Topanga...

So another what to do French moment? Go with the flow and use the ancient wisdom and practices and just plow the "merde combo" into our garden or try finding the closest toxic removal professional? Seeing that the outhouse had not been used in at least 50 years and the fact that no one had lived here in the past two, we figured that the special compost could not possibly contain any potentially harmful bacteria now. But still, "in my garden?"
No, I'm not quite that organic yet. I'll be sticking with the bagged amendment found at the local Gamm Vert this Spring.