Organic and Then Some

Who says Styrofoam isn't good for plants?

Illustration by brad fitzpatrick

We New Hampshire folk fuss and fume about our garden soil, because it actually grows rocks. Come spring, we turn over the ground, picking out the new rocks before planting the veggies, picking more out every time we weed.

Having had enough of rock picking, we built five four-by-eight-foot raised beds, and paid a local outfit to fill the boxes with “Certified Organic USDA-Approved Composted Yard Waste.”  

Smoothing out the lovely dark, fluffy stuff, I rejoiced: only small rocks!

But as we planted the rows, set out the tomato plants and tended the beds over the summer, here’s what we discovered in that Organic Yard Waste: Rusty nails, screws and wire. Bottle caps, chips of brick and asphalt shingles. Flakes of Styrofoam, sharped-edged plastic, shreds of blue tarps. Endless glass shards (some quarter-sized) of various colors, but mostly amber. Scraps of cloth (some cotton, some woolen). Clamshells and chicken bones. Jeesh! This is what they call organic? 

But after a while I found myself looking forward to weeding, sitting on the edge of the boxes, scanning the soil for new and interesting regurgitations. As I picked out chicken bones, and yet more bits of amber glass, I imagined a jovial barbecue: menfolk on the back porch, feet up on the rail, chawing away on their forty-eight-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried and flinging the bones into the weedy back yard, along with bottle caps and Styrofoam cups, and seeing how many beer bottles they can smash against the big rocks over there by the fence. Ah, the simple pleasures of summer!

"Rusty nails, screws and wire. Jeesh! This is what they call organic?

Sometimes I wonder if that all the rubble in that Organic Yard Waste might actually be good for the vegetables. Maybe the stuff contributes some soil-friendly trace elements: calcium and phosphorus from the clamshells and chicken bones. Iron from the rusty nails and screws. Lanolin from the bits of wool. And has any study shown that polystyrene isn’t good for the soil? The other day I fished out a rusty, two-tined fork with the handle busted off. (Hey! Maybe some archaeologist could do that carbon-dating thing on our Organic Yard Waste. Who know what other treasures might be lurking within?)

I can’t complain about the crops. The lettuce and chard have been lush. The zucchini and bush beans have done their usual prolific thing. The tomatoes and pole beans are keeping us and our kith and kin supplied.

Even now, as the crops yield their last fruits of the summer, the Certified Organic Compost continues to entertain. Of late, along with the usual stuff, the soil has heaved up things we haven’t seen before: scraps of what look to be those blue industrial wipes, chunks of fluffy white filament that make me think of angel hair (likely great for aeration), two plastic toothpicks (from an upscale barbecue?). Just yesterday, my husband picked out a Band-Aid and a piece of a rusted Matchbox toy (vintage unknown), prompting him to suggest we contribute all these artifacts to the Milton Farm Museum.

Though I have to say I wasn’t nuts about the condom that surfaced the other week. I tried not to think what that contributed to the organic brew. That’s entertainment I can do without. 

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