Soil, Slugs, Flies and Pigeon Poo
It’s no secret to anyone that knows me….I love soil. I could give you 1001 hypotheses about why I love soil, but these days I prefer not to waste my energy trying to fathom the unfathomable. I just love soil without reason, though not without cause.
Each month, I watch everyone put out their green compost bins to be collected by the council's waste disposal trucks and feel a deep sense of loss. The land this ‘waste’ has been taken from has been stripped of yet more self renewing nourishment, at the hands of human ignorance. This organic matter is going away to be made into compost that the local tip will sell in plastic sacks to gardeners of all kinds. Yet despite this mildly useful destiny - I know it could have been more…..so much more. Such is life and yet the discomfort is not lessened through this acceptance, because hope cannot be extinguished.
This year I have learned to love flies and slugs and pigeon poo too.
I witnessed the swallows rearing their young on a house whilst builders erected scaffolding all around them, totally oblivious to their indomitable spirit. I watched them dipping and diving in the air gathering insects to feed their young and wished there were more flies around for them. I return to my garden, the only place I have seen insects gather in any number. Hover flies land on my shoulder, flies feast on perennial celery pollen and chicken poo, bees buzz from pansy to agastache, wasps drink from the water feature after walking skillfully down a stem belonging to Apium nodiflorum, whilst ladybirds sit as still and graceful as ever. I look up and beckon the swallows to an oasis. I spy the blackbirds scratching underneath the flowering currant bush, finding all kinds of wild besties enjoying a rare patch of moist well mulched soil and I notice the sparrows are once again investigating the stems of the roses, hoping for a fat aphid or two, but not having much luck today!
In the canopy of the Ash tree above the pigeons clatter about noisily, leaving their rich deposits on the garden below. I thank them for their contribution, but I am not always so grateful when they target my head with a precision that reveals nature’s endless capacity for mischievous play. I had recently read about the flocks of passenger pigeons that were so spectacularly large that they used to turn the sky dark from blocking out the light - something Joel Greenberg refers to as a ‘Feathered River Across the Sky’ (the title of his book). These birds left such copious deposits that they re-invigorated entire forests . I ask the sky what will become of us in the wake of such devastation.
My neighbour walks past, they won’t even have heard of a passenger pigeon, let alone comprehend the grief that I am immersed in. A hen asks me for a treat from the top of her compost pile in her loud and abrupt voice and I turn my heart towards bringing her a moment of joy and fetch a cup of afternoon corn and the inside of a pepper, full of her favourite seeds. She summons her fellow hens to share the bounty and then tells them off for doing so….I enjoy her seeming irrationality that soars well beyond my intellect.
I head over to the farm to investigate the areas of land that have been recently mulched with nettles and grass and dock leaves. I witness the miraculous efficiency of slugs in creating beautiful granular soil from plant matter. Combined with the work of the worms, the soil was moist, alive and growing. I had only been moaning about the slugs a few weeks ago, I was told to use beer traps or organic slug pellets, to kill them. I couldn’t do it. The slugs are like nature's immune and detox system all in one. Munching away at weak, sickly or dead plants and returning their bodies back to the earth. I noticed they only ate the plants that had initially been started in the greenhouse, the plants that were struggling to adapt to a change of soil or environment. I realised the slugs were showing me I needed to grow stronger plants and to better support them to adjust more harmoniously to their environment. I made a compost tea from nettles and egg shells, with some rocks and clods of clay thrown in for good measure, because intuitively it felt good to do so. Like a child making mud pies all over again, only this time with a deeper purpose and will emerging from my curiosity. This compost tea will hopefully support new plants to adjust after replanting and reduce the slugs workload.
I walked across the land in the rain, slugs of all shapes and sizes emerged from the surrounding pastures in their hundreds, a formidable soil creating workforce, if ever I saw one. I thanked them for their contribution towards creating nature's paradise.
Perhaps my love of soil, slugs, of flies and pigeon poo will inspire you to learn to love them too, or more accurately help you remember that you already do.
In awe of Nature’s perfection,