“Excuse me” I called to my neighbor who had just driven into his driveway. Pulling my 4 year old’s sunglasses–the only pair I could find that morning–off my nose I motioned for him to roll down his window. I held my breath close.
“Yes” he called through his half- opened window.
“You know I have chickens in my yard,” I stammered.
“No, I did not know that.”
“Well yes and something took a few of them out of my yard a few months back, something like a cat. And I was putting some mouse poison behind my shed and I looked over your wall and noticed one of my chickens is dead in your yard. I’d like to have your permission to go get it.”
He chuckled and looked at me as if he was amused by this wild haired purple sunglasses lady with a dead chicken problem. “Sure go ahead. I’m glad you told me. Otherwise I would have thought it was some sort of passive aggressive voodoo thing.”
Truth is, I had thought about leaving that chicken in his yard. Not for the conventional reasons of aggression (or passive aggression) or laziness or retribution. Simply, I thought it might be good for his soil. His is one of those large, uncultivated lots. The soil is sandy and pebbly and virtually devoid of organic matter. Perfect for hardy native plants like wild mustard or wild lettuce- they do just fine in his yard. Yet I can’t help want to amend it with some mulch, orange peels, compost, leaves, or a dead chicken– just to satisfy my obsession with soil enrichment.
Since last summer, when my garden failed to thrive and my soil test came back with some deficiencies, I have become fixated on soil. My soil. My neighbors’ soil. My friends’ soil. Strips of soil between the lanes of a street. Soil health. Soul quality. Soil depletion. Soil components.
In the cold nights of winter I’d scoot up in my bed and press my head against the north wall of the house- knowing that just beyond the drywall was my garden. Through that celestial spot of the top of my head I’d see if I could mind meld with my soil. Feeling what it might need. Asking how I might help it. “Do you need kelp, my dear one?” I’d whisper.
Clearly most people don’t do this sort of thing. I understand that I’m in small club of people that find smashing their crown against a drafty wall a meaningful experience. Realizing my eccentric tendencies, I also reckoned that it made no sense to leave a dead chicken in my neighbor’s yard as a homage to soil quality. So my husband and I retrieved the dead chicken. Two nights after the voodoo conversation in the driveway, beneath a bright winter moon, with a headlamp to light the way. Our chicken was splayed on her back, wings melting in to the sandy soil, greasy viscera exposed to the sky. My husband lifted her into a milk crate gurney and we brought her back over the wall.
My role was strictly to monitor carcass disposal. I had to make sure she did not end up in the trashcan, where my husband put the last chicken that died. No sir. That’s like throwing away a whole bag of fertilizer, unopened. My dead chickens– as well as dead birds that hit the window, and the dead mice the dog delivers at the back door –do not go in the trash. At our house dead things are soil-building machines.
I buried the chicken, beneath a lilac, where worms now thread in and out of her ribs and sew her nitrogen back into the earth. She resurrects life even in her death.
Very voodoo indeed.
My soil test said my garden soil is low in potassium. Lemon, orange rinds and bananas are high in potassium. You do not have to compost them to make the potassium available. I bury them right in the soil where their minerals leach out.
Setting up the spring garden bed. The soil is full of orange peels. Directions on building a hoop house– blog or video.
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