Breaking Ground

by Derek Burch

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Ox

This is a difficult one when you told them what an ox is in the first place



Actually, I also find it hard to love my neighbour, although I try not to let him know it. I had a number of good years driving the streets around my house at the time of leaf fall, and again when the lawn cutting got under way in earnest, happily hauling home the green and brown gold that people bagged up nicely and put for the trash people to haul away.

"O.k. if I take your leaves?" "Sure go ahead." . . . A predictable conversation for a number of years. Until one fateful day - "What do you do with them, anyway?"

Well, I explained mulching. And no, it wasn't like composting. There was no need to mess with heaps that had to be turned, no risk of odor, no chance of harboring rats or snakes. I launched into it with missionary zeal "Our soils really need organic matter in them. It does wonders, makes heavy soils drain, and sandy soils hold water. The mulch on the surface has no danger of causing nitrogen starvation as it breaks down. (Where had my neighbour even heard of nitrogen? What misinformed garden writer had he read?) The surface mulch stops weed seeds in the soil from germinating into healthy plants. And its own surface gets too dry for weed seeds that blow onto it to germinate well. And if they do, the seedlings pull up with no effort."

On and on - after all, I have believed in surface mulching as a way of growing for years - tested it in England, in Montreal, in St. Louis, in Tampa and Lakeland and Coconut Grove and Fort Lauderdale, in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. And no one had ever believed me when I explained it, even when standing in my rather lush gardens.

So why did it stick this time? It didn't seem to make an immediate impression, but a few weeks later I found that I wasn't having to make quite as many trips the night before the trash men came. Then I saw some suspicious piles around trees in the swale in front of his house. Then he got the tree trimmers to dump a load of chips in his driveway, and borrowed my pitchfork and wheelbarrow to spread it!

And from then on, things went from bad to worse. He is evidently much more trusted than the foreigner in their midst that I am, and his example seems to have been a catalyst for the whole area. My supplies are getting very sparse. I may be reduced to buying the composted trash that is available now ( a great product it is, by the way).

I need to be philosophical about it. I believe in the idea of husbanding the plot that we occupy, and the soil in our neighbourhood should soon become the earthworm paradise of Broward County. Perhaps I can persuade him to use all his kitchen scraps, as we do (yes, everything, vegetable, animal and the daily accumulation of junk mail.) I love to debunk another of the stories that garden writers copy from one another without testing what they write. I never get smells from the bones or meat scraps, and the garden is not invaded by bears every night.

Garden writers, and my opinion of most of them (can you guess?) - that is another story.

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